How do you have conversations with your support workers about issues you are having with the changes in your service due to COVID-19?
We all know that this is a difficult time and we recognise that change is hard to navigate when there is no pandemic, let alone now. With COVID-19 a lot of changes happened very quickly and we were forced to adapt overnight. Some of those changes that were forced on us have taken away our control over particular aspects of our life and this is impacting us in different ways.
We here at the MHCSA want to remind you that you do have the power to ask for what you need. This article is full of suggestions that can guide you on managing change with your service provider and workers while still being in control of decisions and outcomes.
Having face-to-face communication is not in our routine for the moment and we need to transition to supports being done in a different way.
Everyone is looking to technology as an alternative to this but not all of us have the same access to technology or an understanding of how it works.
If you are being asked to use technology as an alternative to face-to-face support, be clear on what technology you do have and what you don’t have.
If you can access a phone suggest that as an alternative to face-to-face. It doesn’t have to be your mobile phone – if you have a landline use that. Or you can say what you want using text messages, or to ask someone to call you back if you want to talk.
If you prefer to be online rather than your phone you can suggest using online platforms like Messenger with Facebook or WhatsApp. Platforms like WhatsApp are encrypted meaning other people can’t access your conversation. Your support worker can help you find more information about these and guide you on how to use them.
If you don’t have a phone and need one as an alternative to face to face support ask your support service if they can help you get one.
If you are going to use online video conferencing with platforms like Zoom or Skype, look at the functions. Just because it has video does not mean you have to use it. You can use voice without video or you can sit in a dark room and not be identified. And if you don’t want anyone to see inside your home you can put on a virtual background, sit in the backyard with a laptop or turn your monitor to face a blank wall or window.
Should you be ok with people seeing in your home take a moment to look at what is in your background. Take away anything personal that you don’t want seen, or that could identify where you live.
Communicating with Others
In times like this there will be days you may not want to talk to anyone but still want to say something. On those days you can send an audio recording of your thoughts, which allows you to express what you are going through without having to engage in a dialogue about it. People will want to know you are OK even if you do not feel like communicating.
You could also send an email making it clear how you want it responded to, if at all.
Sometimes the support we need is from those around us. If you live close to a family member or friend who is in your support network, put a card or letter in their letterbox telling them how you’d like to be supported right now.
Find a code for saying you need help. Simple phrases like “flowers don’t look good today” is a nice way of saying you don’t want to see or hear from anyone today. Whatever words feel right for you make sure the people who support you know it and understand what it means.
If you are on an NDIS plan, support will still be happening.
However if times for services have changed and it has become stressful speak with your support worker about what you need to change and make suggestions on how this can be done.
Shopping is one of those things that can be more challenging than usual so perhaps think about the alternatives that are available.
Can your worker help you with online shopping?
If they can, try it out but be aware it may not always be possible for your shopping to be delivered at the time you want. At times you may also not get the items or particular brands you want, as the supermarket will substitute items that are not in stock.
Op shops and Foodbanks are shut but that does not mean they are no longer supporting the community. Ask your support worker to help you find out how you can access food parcels and connect with them.
Couriers and deliveries are practising social distancing. Items you do purchase online can be left at your front door and you do not need to sign for them.
Has your self-care changed because you can’t access groups or services you normally use?
Getting together in groups is so important for connecting and sharing experiences. Ask if your worker can help you reconnect with your support group. If you are using technology perhaps you can have coffee chats on Zoom, or organise takeaway coffees with appropriate social distancing outdoors.
Think about what you once enjoyed that helped with your mental health, that you may need to do differently for a while. If it was an art or craft group, ask your support worker to send you how-to videos, or to photocopy or print instructions for you. Maybe your art and craft supplies are harder to find, ask your support worker to help you with that.
Staying focused on a task is a great self-care strategy too. Is there a project or task at home that you can focus on? Perhaps there are photos that need framing or furniture that needs fixing, or it could be a good time to sort out those cupboards and get in to some extra cleaning. If you need any supplies to do this reach out to your support network for donations or to your support worker to help you find them.
It’s also important we keep up our personal hygiene. Build a list of personal hygiene tasks to do, keep to your routine and structure. Remember, this is something you can control.
Eating right is really important and planning menus for the week will help you stay on track. Some ingredients are becoming hard to find, so talk to your support worker about information on alternatives. They may be able to help you to create flexible recipes, or find online cooking classes that use simple, staple ingredients in your pantry and fridge.
Managing Your Media
We are living with information overload at the moment and it is not all good. There is a lot of fear as well as negative news. Take steps to manage your social media and news to support your mental health and this could mean taking a break from social media. If you want to receive accurate news about the virus download the Government COVID-19 App for regular updates, either on your phone or bookmark it on your computer. Put your settings to SA so that you only get information specific to you.
After Hours Support
There will be times when you really need support and your support worker has finished for the day. When this happens remember there are phone and online chat lines that have people with a lived experience like you who are available in those after hours.
Lived Experience Telephone Support Service (LETSS) open 7 days per week from 5:00pm to 11:30pm on 1800 013 755. To learn more visit www.letss.org.au.
Skylight also has a COVID-19 specific support line. It is a free-call telephone number 1800 02 2020 or via web-chat via Skylight’s website www.skylight.org.au/COVID-19-Support-Line
Grow SA have also moved their support groups online. If you are a member or would like to find out more just go to https://www.grow.org.au/egrow/.
Uniting Communities also have a Mental Health Support line specific for COVID-19. You can access it via webchat on this link https://www.unitingcommunities.org/services/mental-health-counselling/covid-19-mental-health-support-line/ or telephone by calling 1800 632 753. This line is open from 8am – 8pm everyday.
Have your regular appointments changed? While some regular appointments may have changed or been cancelled, you can still access urgent or emergency help.
If you don’t feel comfortable leaving the house, ask about Telehealth. This is a service where your appointment is conducted by video conferencing. It can seem complicated but your support worker can help you navigate it. Many GPs are using it now.
If you do need to go to your GP for an appointment you can ask the surgery what steps they are taking to keep their clinic safe from the virus. If any of those steps concern you, ask more questions or ask about alternatives to support your mental health. Your support worker can be on the phone when you ring to help you with your questions. Make sure you both talk beforehand about what you are concerned about and if you don’t have a phone, ask your support worker to use their work phone and put it on speaker.
Many GP clinics are giving flu shots outside the clinic so you don’t have to sit in the waiting room, which helps reduce anxiety.
While so much of the focus is on COVID-19, it’s important to remember that we can still get sick with other illnesses like the flu or infections. If you have any questions or concerns about your general health, reach out to your GP or clinician.
Social isolation means a lot of us can’t go to church or our place of worship. This can make us feel very isolated and disconnected. If this is a situation you find yourself in don’t hesitate to ask your support worker to help you reconnect with your church community. Many churches are streaming their services online and your church leaders and support workers may be able to help you to access this. Some TV stations are broadcasting church services on Sunday mornings for people who perhaps don’t have access to technology. Don’t be afraid to ask your worker to support you, as your Faith is very important – especially in times like this.
We have covered a lot of information and we don’t want it to be overwhelming for you. After reading everything, consider the parts that are most relevant to you and focus on those. Try one thing at a time. While everything feels like it is out of control, we’re here to remind you that there are some things you can take control of again.
Stay well, and don’t forget to wash your hands.
The Team at MHCSA