Our mental health is like a belly bursting at the seams

As the coronavirus pandemic goes on and on with no foreseeable end in sight, our collective mental health is stretched to its limit. But as TV and radio personality Carrie Bickmore notes, it’s not a competition of who has it worst – and we have to stop diminishing our feelings while comparing ourselves to others.

We all know someone who is struggling at the moment. It may even be you. The mental health of our nation is like a beer belly bursting at the seams – one more knock and the button’s going to pop.

At the beginning of the pandemic we were unified as we all came together to fight the unknown. At the start there was no blame, and the matter of who kept their jobs and who didn’t felt like luck of the draw. We were homeschooling together, at arm’s length from those we love and all adjusting to life in lockdown together.

But five months on and the cracks are starting to show… Many Australians are exhausted, anxious, flat and no longer interested in playing board games via Zoom on a Saturday night. It’s become like the State of Origin as we ease our way out of the pandemic at different times depending on our postcode.

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In Victoria, families are at breaking point, back to online learning and the continual stress of working from home. It’s Groundhog Day, playgrounds are closed, catch-ups with friends out of the question and usual activities on hold.

Many Victorians I speak to say it’s the indefinite nature of things that is the hardest. Not having things to look forward to or a definite date for when work may return to normal.

While the rest of the country is out of lockdown, nobody can breathe a sigh of relief just yet. The virus still looms, the financial pressures are building, the challenge for businesses to rebound if they can is enormous. Families are adjusting to life with one or even both parents losing income. We are trapped in our own state, unable to see the ones we love.

All of this is putting a huge strain on our mental health.

Calls to mental-health services have skyrocketed. That’s a sign people are struggling. It’s also a sign people are reaching out, and that’s exactly what we need to do.

I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said they are struggling, but don’t feel they can complain because there are others far worse off than them. There is a lot of guilt for those who still have jobs, who are healthy, who do have family to rely on or who live in a state where life is relatively normal again.

But diminishing our feelings is the worst thing we can do. Just as criticising people who at face value have nothing to complain about is not helpful either.

Everyone’s circumstances are different.

It’s not a competition and mental health doesn’t discriminate.

Yes, 2020 has been a sh*tshow, but we must find a way to keep moving forward. To put one foot in front of the other and hold out our socially distanced hand to those who are struggling, and bring them into the future with us.

For advice and strategies to help manage your wellbeing and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact the Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service hotline on 1800 512 348. If you are experiencing a personal crisis or have suicidal thoughts, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Carrie co-hosts The Project, 6.30pm weeknights on Network 10, and Carrie & Tommy, 3pm weekdays on the Hit Network.