Since 1988, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has released a Social Justice Statement each year to highlight a particular societal issue. This year the Social Justice Statement is titled, To Live Life to the Full: Mental Health in Australia Today.
Merrilyn Paul is one of nine VMCH Case Managers supporting around 1170 carers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Aged between eight years old to almost 100, individuals are caring for a family member who has a mental illness, dementia, disability, chronic condition, or is in palliative care. These strict lockdowns are extremely tough for carers who are already under a lot of stress. Merrilyn gives us an insight into how carers are faring:
Generally speaking, how are carers coping during isolation?
Carers are feeling isolated and cut off from the community, causing a much higher level of stress than usual. Limited community access for respite, cancelling in-home supports due to the concern of contracting COVID-19 and family members limiting their access to the frail and elderly to keep them safe are just some issues. Parents and grandparents are struggling to cope with remote learning and working from home, especially those who have children with special needs. They feel incapable at times; isolated and disconnected from their usual supports.
What kind of advice do you give to help support their mental health?
We encourage them to access our online carer engagement supports and activities which have been adapted to support them in isolation. We encourage carers to keep connected with their family and friends via phone or video chats, we also have access to VMCH TeleFriends (volunteers who make weekly social phone calls). If they are feeling anxious, we advise them to contact their GP who can support them with a Mental Health Plan, and we also refer them to counselling supports.
What kind of practical support do you give and how does this help them?
During the pandemic we have been able to continue providing flexible in home respite/support as usual, however some carers have chosen to suspend some services until Stage 4 has lifted. Some carers are experiencing financial stress due to loss of work so we have been able to provide Coles vouchers and meals. We continue to provide funding for equipment, non-contact shopping, laundry, gardening and home maintenance to ensure they are living safely and well at home. The families who are supporting children with remote learning can access tutoring support and in-home respite to help alleviate some of the carer burden. Our team of Case Managers are in regular contact with all our carers providing advice and practical and emotional support if needed.