explainer

We asked 15 Melburnians how their mental health is right now. Really.

Mental health can feel like an elastic band - one that if stretched to breaking point, will be ready to snap with just one more pull. For Melburnians, who have endured over 200 days this year under varying levels of 'stay-at-home' restrictions, it's safe to say there are many people living at breaking point.

According to The Australianmental health treatment in Victoria has risen by 30 per cent in the past four weeks, as the impact of the lockdown takes its toll. 

As restrictions begin to ease in Victoria and cases drop, concern for mental health only increases. 

In August, the Victorian government announced an allocation of nearly $60 million in extra funding for mental health services in light of the crisis.

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In an effort to check in on Melburnians right now, we asked 15 women in the Mamamia community: How are you doing, really? 

Here's what they told us.

1. Ruth. 

My mental health is poor. 

I’m working, which is a blessing, but everyone is exhausted - like bone-drenching tired. Worse still, I fear we have become institutionalised. I feel myself being fearful of the future, fearful of other people, fearful of a third wave, fearful of doorknobs, pedestrian crossing buttons, handrails. 

But I’m so happy and proud that we have worked together and I find the comparisons with NSW galling. It’s like kicking someone when they’re already on the ground. It’s mean-spirited and unhelpful.

2. Carolyn

I'm trying not to worry about what I can’t change. The 'if only' scenario can be a killer, so I try to avoid thinking about it. My only grandchild is only nine months old and I have missed out on nearly all of his early months. 

3. Julia.

During the lockdown, my mental health has been quite up and down. But right now, I’m feeling optimistic with current numbers and the roadmap out of restrictions. 

I work in public health and wholeheartedly support the government in the measures they have taken to date. I’ve previously worked in the NHS (UK Public Health Service) and I feel incredibly grateful for our position, compared to those in the UK and Europe. 

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Most of my friends and family live in regional Victoria. While it has been hard to watch them going for weekends away, catching up with loved ones and going out for dinners, I know what we are doing in Melbourne is for the greater good. We’ve got this.

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4. Anthea.

I can never see us getting back to normal. I've lost hope.

5. Alicia.

My mental health is suffering. It feels like each stage of the roadmap out of lockdown is geared towards those in relationships or in family units, for example 10 people can catch up in a park, but only if you’re from two households. So I still can’t actually see my friends.

Further to that, I'm a nurse and it's frustrating having people act like it’s over, despite us still being in lockdown. It’s just all so exhausting.

6. Alison

I'm not great. I've always supported the lockdown and still do to a certain extent.  

I feel as though we've become quite a divided state and that are increasingly led to believe that their thoughts, feelings and opinions are not valid. This is incredibly hurtful and detrimental to my personal mental health, and I'm sure to many others.

It feels like we aren't all in this together as a nation or even as a state. The isolation baking and finding new hobbies has slowed and finding the joy in a slower-paced life is becoming increasingly harder to find. The Zoom parties and catch-ups are almost non-existent, particularly with those in other states.

For me, the worst part as we come out of lockdown is the fear and anxiety. Will we have a third wave? Will the emotional trauma be carried by our children into their adult life? How will our economy bounce back? What kind of impact will this deficit have on our future? 

All my friends in healthcare (including those who have worked on COVID-wards) have started talking about what they're calling "the second pandemic" - they're worried more about people's mental health than COVID at the moment.

Things might be starting to look up from the outside, but that's definitely not how some people are feeling on the inside.

"I'm not great," says Alison. Image: Getty.

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7. Marley

It has certainly been filled with highs and lows. I have also been incredibly privileged in that we are safe at home, both have an income and have plenty of room for our kids to run around in the backyard. But I've also had my only parent locked down in a nursing home, tried to manage studying, working and homeschooling and generally keep things as normal as possible to make sure everyone was okay. 

I firmly support the [Victorian Premier Daniel] Andrews' Government and their response to the situation, but I am also really worn out and scared that people who don't follow the rules will force us back into lockdown. I just don't think it would be possible to go through all of this again.

8. Natalie.

It’s been a rollercoaster. I’m definitely more privileged than others out there who may not have been safe in their homes, but I have been through every stage possible in my mind and at one point was so desperately unwell I nearly hospitalised myself. I was stood down from my job, then experienced family trauma, had my grandparents transition into aged care in the midst of lockdown, tried to homeschool and work as a sole parent and I just couldn't cope. We have always done the right thing in terms of following the plan, but there is not many of us who can say we aren’t over it. I think it will take a really long time for us to recover emotionally - I’m still afraid to do my food shopping, let alone go back to eating in restaurants. I’m so grateful we can see the light at the end of the tunnel this week. It makes it all feel a little more worth it.

9. Natalie

I am a mum of two - a three and one-year-old, self used as a marriage celebrant (hint: choose a more essential service in my next life), and also the co-owner of a small business that I have been working hard to keep afloat since the world turned on its head in March.

I am tired, anxious and feel swept up in the now-familiar wave of utter despair.

What was once my sanctuary, now feels like an overwhelming burden. In the same breath, while I so desperately wish for some normality, this most recent lockdown has drained me of all motivation and desire to even leave home.

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We are lucky that - albeit in a reduced capacity - my husband has continued to work from home since March. We are safe and healthy and have two gorgeous children to keep us smiling, but the sense that the end is nowhere in sight is really emotionally taxing.

Melbourne is starting to open again after a disastrous second wave of coronavirus. Image: Getty. 

10. Lauren.

I’m on maternity leave in Melbourne at the moment, my daughter was born three weeks before the first lockdown and I would say we are struggling. 

I managed to form a mothers' group, who were able to meet for about four weeks in between lockdowns. Most are either back at work now or making arrangements. It has not been the maternity leave we expected, and we are still a long way off from allowing us to achieve some things we had hoped to with our babies this year. We absolutely have a lot to be grateful, compared to what’s happening in Europe, but there is a heaviness in knowing we will not get this year back, and we still have a way to go before any kind of new ‘normal’.

11. Hayley.

My mental health is in the toilet to be honest. We keep getting told “just hang on, we’re almost there.” But... we never quite seem to get there. To be at low numbers now and to look at NSW with a similar (albeit not exactly) scenario, and to see how much more freedom they have is crushing. I understand the need for a slow exit from restrictions, but it doesn’t make it any easier to live with them day-by-day.

12. Michelle. 

My mental health is great. We are getting on top of this thing, it's looking hopeful for a COVID-safe summer and the sun is (mostly) shining. We have a lot to be grateful for, especially when you compare us to several countries in Europe who had similar case numbers in July and are now reporting 10,000 cases. It's nice to see more people out in parks and people wearing masks too - we're all enjoying the freedom but sticking by the rules.

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13. Claudia. 

I have three teenagers. It has been torture to keep very social beings afloat, when you want to cry almost every day yourself. I have watched my 17-year-old daughter's friendship circle shift silently in this new way of connecting; I’ve watched my 15-year-old son retreat into himself in a way that frightens me; I've watched my 13-year-old daughter ache for time with new friends made in a short seven weeks in face-to-face at high school.

The frustration in our household is palpable. We have three eager young people desperate to flourish.

14. Cheryl.

I'm a single mum, with two daughters - a 19-year-old in Year 12 and a 14-year-old in Year 8. I’m incredibly proud of both of them. 

They’ve been able to focus and have a good work ethic throughout lockdown. We’ve certainly had our issues, as I was made redundant in March, but while that was devastating and financially distressing, there were benefits to having so much quality time to spend with each other. In the past few years, I have not been around much as I was working long hours. So seeing them more has been a silver lining. We’ve played lots of board games and done lots of cooking. I feel very lucky that they seem to have managed so well and we enjoy each other’s company. 

However, I’m certainly concerned about what’s around the corner. I’m setting up a local cleaning business for when we can finally get back to work. The financial stress is very real and with the reduction of JobSeeker recently, I’ve had to dip in to my superannuation to help pay the rent and bills. I picked up some fairly low-paid casual work in June but that’s not enough.

It’s a very worrying time, and at 54 years old, I feel like the government has ignored me in the budget. In addition, my poor Year 12 daughter is set for a huge study debt with the increased costs of an Arts Degree next year. It's frustrating, because she can’t just switch her study plan now.

15. Tess.

I'm a mum of a two-and-a-half-year-old and it's been tough, especially while playgrounds were off limits. 

It's hard to keep them entertained and burn off all that energy. Most of my family is in NSW and I haven't seen them for a year. I'm unsure when I will see them again. It has been very unsettling and anxiety provoking.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

Image: Getty. 


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