Story sponsored by Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT).
WITH the Therapeutic Goods Administration provisionally approving the COVID-19 vaccine and the government working hard on a distribution strategy, there are positive signs that the worst of the pandemic may soon be behind us.
However, one of Canberra's leading mental health awareness organisations is warning that we "still have a mountain ahead of us" when it comes to dealing with the fall out.
Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT) CEO Heidi Prowse says the pandemic has already had a significant impact on the mental health of many Canberrans and it is only going to get worse in the months ahead.
The amount of uncertainty that many people have felt over the past 12 months has contributed to a massive spike in anxiety.
Many Canberrans have also experienced trauma; felt the stress that comes from being laid off and socially isolated; and had real strains put on their relationships and finances.
When they have to return to work, she says, these issues might come to the front in ways that may be unexpected. That's why employers need to equip themselves now.
"Sometimes we feel in Canberra that we've been lucky (in relation to the pandemic) but the implications, especially within vulnerable communities has been enormous," Mrs Prowse explained.
"I also think we can underestimate the impact on workers - not just when they lost work but also now when they're going back to work - and that is something we're really focusing on," she continued.
"There may be underlying issues that may have been hidden up until now which will start to come to the surface as people start to transition back into what is seemingly a 'more normal life'. That's when the effects of their COVID experience could start to really impact them."
Mrs Prowse also said that disruption within the broader economy along with stimulus programs like Jobkeeper being wound down, would likely see many more Canberrans experience vulnerabilities in the months to come.
That's why MIEACT has decided to expand its "Pay It Forward" program - originally meant for school children - to also cover not-for-profit organisations and frontline workers, dealing with our region's most vulnerable people.
Pay It Forward, as the name suggests, is a way for businesses and workplaces to give back to their community.
Whenever a business books a mental health education workshop, it allows MIEACT to provide a course for free to a school or frontline organisation.
In a post-COVID-19 era, their main focus with their adult programs will be on arming both employers and frontline staff across the region with the ability to spot mental health concerns as well as practical strategies to help address them.
This will mainly consist of their workshops: "Stress Better", "Trauma Awareness", and "Do No Harm", which explore personal and professional boundaries and teach a best practice approach to communicating about mental illness and lived experiences.
"What we do best at MIEACT is use people's lived experiences to educate others about mental health," Mrs Prowse said.
"We have highly trained volunteers and educators, living with a mental illness, who go into the community to share their stories and provide real strategies."
One organisation which has benefitted from the Pay It Forward campaign is YWCA Canberra.
In 2020, they experienced a 370 per cent increase in the number of people utilising their services, particularly their housing and homelessness services as well as people needing emergency financial and food assistance.
To help out, MIEACT provided their "self-care for managers" course for free to 15 of their staff.
YWCA Canberra's Executive Director of Community Services Cara Jacobs says the course was highly valuable to her team.
"The course was excellent. Staff with supervisory responsibilities were able to take some much-needed time out from their busy service delivery schedules to learn some tips and tricks for their own self-care and that of the staff that they supervise," she explained.
"Staff were able to learn what self-care is, why it is important, and learn some physical, emotional, psychological and sociological strategies for self-care."
Mrs Jacobs says the benefits of her staff's wellbeing continues to filter down to their clients, adding she would recommend MIEACT to anyone.
"Mental Health is extremely important, particularly in the current climate," she said.
"We know that in ordinary times one in four people experience mental ill-health each year. We can expect this to significantly increase during periods of uncertainty," she continued,
"As we spend a third of our adult lives at work, self-care and early intervention and prevention courses such as those offered by MIEACT are really important."
Mrs Prowse says she is proud of the work currently being done through the Pay It Forward campaign and hopes businesses right across the capital region will continue to get on board.
She believes that community is essential and that if we as Canberrans are to get through the challenges of the coming months, we will need to do it together.
"Our programs are all about improving the lives of Canberrans and giving them the skills they need to thrive," Mrs Prowes said.
"Given the year that we had in 2020, now more than ever we know the importance of good mental health. We also know the importance of putting practical strategies in place to help support people on a daily basis, instead of waiting for people to slip into crisis before responding," she continued.
"If we continue to work together as a community we can help to not only ease the stress on those in our city who are most vulnerable but also foster happier, healthier and more resilient workplaces too. It really is a win, win."
Story sponsored by Mental Illness Education ACT (MIEACT).