THERE is light at the end of the tunnel as far as regional Victoria's second lockdown goes.
But the mental health ramifications of a complex year continue to have a widespread effect on members of the Wimmera community.
Fortunately, health experts across the region have suggested there are things you can do to help navigate a tumultuous period.
This article however is no replacement for professional help, and if you or someone you know needs support, help is available:
- Lifeline- 13 11 44
- Mensline Australia Line - 1300 789 978
- Kids Help - 1800 55 1800
- Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
- headspace Horsham - 5381 1543
Causes for concern
Stawell-based psychologist Krystal Browne said for a lot of people, the second period of lockdown had been harder to handle than the first.
"I think a lot of people saw the first lockdown as a bit of a novelty. People were able to adapt and to deal with that, believing it was short term, and that there was an end in sight," she said.
"Now there's no real certain end. We've lost most of the year to this as well, so there's this sense of, 'When is it going to end?'
"People just want to get their lives back."
Mrs Browne said there had been a significant increase in people referred to her by their GP, and people making appointments of their own accord.
She said symptoms of anxiety and depression were stemming partially from "pandemic fatigue", social isolation, and an inability to plan for the future, due to the unknown of the virus.
She said that the financial ramifications for people who had lost jobs, businesses, or income were also starting to "catch up with people".
"I think the financial implications and the ripple effects from that are going to be seen for months to come, even years," she said.
Mrs Browne said that people in more favourable situations were also not immune, and that it was equally important that these people exercise self-care.
"For people that are still working, I've seen people with a sense that they should be grateful for the position they are in. That they should be grateful to still have their jobs and their health, and therefore they shouldn't be feeling down, or anxious, or depressed," she said.
"In reality, it is something that affects us all in different ways, and nobody should necessarily be immune to feeling these things."
How it can manifest
Mrs Browne said she had seen an increase in people with symptoms of anxiety and depression.
"It's different for everyone but I'm definitely seeing more anxiety presentation. People who are presenting with disrupted sleep ... muscle tension, restlessness, or worried thoughts that they can't stop," she said.
"And for some people, it is a lot more depressive symptoms. Tearfulness, low motivation, difficulty getting out of bed, that sort of thing."
Wimmera Psychology clinical psychologist and social worker Kate Alessia said the stress of the period could also be expressed in milder ways.
"Some people are getting really irritable, cranky, not responding to messages from friends, not reaching out for support," she said.
"Some people are taking risks, breaking the rules, and some are also quite angry with the world, and are buying into conspiracy theories."
Is it a conspiracy?
Both Dr Alessia and Mrs Browne said some people had turned to conspiracy theories during this period to help explain what is a strange and complex situation.
Dr Alessia said it was likely a reaction to people's perceived lack of control with COVID-19.
"When people can't control their environment, one of the ways of coping is to come up with a theory to explain it, and to direct your anger or your feelings at a particular source," she said.
"People don't like uncertainty, and they often flip into anger and direct it at specific organisations or people, because it gives them some sense of having control over their environment.
"For some people, it is easier to live with the idea that this is something that has been blown out of proportion by the government, rather than accept the situation, because it is difficult to come to terms with.
"It's really been brought home quite starkly at the moment that we don't control everything, and that can be difficult."
What you can do
Mrs Browne said the one thing she had reiterated to most of her patients was to focus on their immediate surrounds.
"One of the things I'm always telling people is just to get back to basics. Get back to the things they can control, rather than the things they can't," she said.
"That includes controlling how much news you watch, how much media you expose yourself to, just those things of self-care that you can do for yourself.
"Control your response to things, because you can't really control the actions or responses of others."
Dr Alessia stressed the importance of a sleep schedule.
"It's really important to keep some structure and routine. Keep a consistent sleep cycle, whereas it's really easy to lose that with no regular work or school," she said.
"People are both under and over sleeping - staying up late binge watching a television show, or spending too many hours in bed, which leads to a poorer quality of sleep.
"If we don't keep that cycle we can get grouchy. pessimistic, and it can have a real effect."
Dr Alessia said taking care of the physical side could have a significant impact on our mental wellbeing.
"It's really important that we eat well - I'm hearing people don't have the energy anymore, and might be getting that quick fix of a takeaway meal," she said.
"Whereas in the first lockdown, I think people were doing things like experimenting in the kitchen, cooking sourdough and that sort of thing.
"Of course, also catching up with friends and people in your life is ultra important. It's the catch-ups that make a big difference.
"And when you catch up, not just talking about the doom and gloom, but talking about the good things that are happening.
"The changes in the garden, the sunshine, telling some jokes and just reminding ourselves of those things that make life worthwhile."
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