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Care and compassion needed in times of crisis


Working as a journalist you get to cover a multitude of topics, but one that has consistently filled the column space over the past 18 months has, of course, been COVID.

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From heartbreaking stories of families who have lost loved ones, people who have had their health seriously impacted by the virus, those who have lost employment, been unable to be with family members due to border restrictions and tragically those who have lost hope – the pandemic has sparked the full gamut of emotions. It’s been a rollercoaster for all, but for some it has been too much to bear.

Last month when we received several media releases promoting RU OK? Day and World Suicide Prevention Day, I reflected on how everyone’s mental wellbeing is being impacted… even when you think you might be doing alright it may not be the case. Many also struggle with how to ask someone if they are okay. We are conditioned to ‘not say the wrong thing’ and make matters worse, but silence often amplifies the situation.

Personally, our family recently went through the stresses of trying to get one member back from NSW. With no family support there, her employment gone and with the intention of always returning this month, we (and she) knew it was time to bring things forward and come home. However, like thousands of other South Australians, my daughter found herself stranded and isolated, and playing a waiting game with SA Health.

Initially, when she submitted her exemption application we all thought it would just be a ‘couple of weeks’ maximum until she could return. But the weeks rolled by and the whole process was nothing short of a nightmare. A lack of transparency about when the application would be reviewed – or even if it was being reviewed – of not being able to talk to anyone involved in the process, and the general feeling that the authorities really didn’t care too much about bringing her home was emotionally draining, completely frustrating and pretty soul destroying.

As time went on and she continued in lockdown in Sydney we found it difficult to find the right things to say that would keep her spirits buoyed. In the end, we mostly avoided the topic of coming home and spoke about anything else to fill in the minutes on the phone.

When she finally got the green light to return six weeks after she applied there was little celebration as right up until the end – only three hours before her flight was due to leave – she was still waiting for the letter of confirmation to arrive. I don’t think any of us had a good sleep that night as we wondered if she would actually make it back or if another obstacle would arise.

(As a side note, a week after she finished her 14 days of medi-hotel quarantine – which also can’t be good for anyone’s mental health – she received an email from SA Health to say she had been approved to come back and do home quarantine! You have to almost laugh when the department claims to be doing such a ‘great job’ through this pandemic, as its processes in some areas are clearly not working).

Now reflecting on the whole sorry saga I have so much more empathy for others who are similarly stranded and are now filling the column space in the daily papers. The grey nomads stuck in the caravans on the wrong side of the border, couples who can’t be reunited, families separated …the list goes on and on.

Yes, I understand the health authorities want to do everything in their power to keep South Australians safe, but these are people they are dealing with and they should be treated with much more care and compassion.

And it is quite ironic that a health department often touting its commitment to mental health does not appear to be overly concerned about the impact it is having on the mental wellbeing of people who have to deal with its bureaucracy.

There is no doubt this pandemic is taking its toll…isolation and loneliness is an unwanted byproduct of social distancing, there is economic hardship from losing employment, and the ongoing disruption to people’s personal lives.

We all have a duty of care to our fellow humans and we should never be afraid to ask RU OK? Do it today, tomorrow and the next as we all need to be mindful that there are people close to us – or not that close – who may be struggling with life’s ups and downs during this pandemic.


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