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SA mental health hotline flooded by carers concerned about loved ones

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A South Australian COVID-19 mental health hotline has seen a significant surge in people asking the organisation to check on the welfare of their loved ones and others in the community.

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South Australian community mental health organisation Skylight launched its COVID-19 Support Line in April as a free peer support phone and web chat service, running from 5-11pm daily. The service is staffed by people with lived experience of mental illness.

It was contracted to operate for three months after receiving $140,000 funding from SA Health’s Office of the Chief Psychiatrist, Skylight CEO Paul Creedon told InDaily.

But instead of individuals contacting the service for their own mental health distress, it was mainly answering calls from people asking Skylight to perform a telephoned welfare check on others, Creedon said.

“We’re making more outgoing calls that we take incoming calls at this point time,” he said.

“It is all checking up on people.

“It may be for example, that a carer has called and said ‘hey, look, can you give my son, daughter, mother, father, or whoever a call? I’m a bit worried about them’.”

Skylight’s only outgoing calls through this service are for welfare checks.

Creedon said “carers” in this context included the South Australian legal definition – a person providing ongoing assistance for someone with a disability, chronic illness, or frailty – but also friends, family members or co-workers.

There had also been an increase in demand for Skylight’s other services, such as group and one-on-one programs, as people become worried about employment and paying costs like rent.

“There are a number of people who have their income jeopardised,” he said.

“We’ve had people contact us because they are worried about COVID and what that meant, and we’ve now got a whole economic environment where people are worried about the economy.”

Creedon expects these numbers to grow as the economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic worsen.

A number of reports have already indicated a deterioration in mental health in the state and across Australia.

South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute’s Wellbeing and Resilience Centre lead researcher Joep Van Agteren said in April normal levels of wellbeing among individuals who contacted the centre had halved.

LifeLine said it was also taking one call every 30 seconds from Australians suffering loneliness and anxiety due to the pandemic.

The first study of the country’s mental health during lockdown, conducted by Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, released today, shows mental health problems were twice as prevalent as they were in non-pandemic circumstances.

Skylight’s funding for the COVID-19 service will end at the end of the month, however, Creedon would like it to continue given the levels of demand.

“Another three to six-ish months would get us far enough past this, that most people would be okay and then the service could comfortably shut down,” he said.

“We wouldn’t be looking for forever funding as [this service] is specifically around COVID, but we’re dealing with COVID as well as the aftermath of COVID.”

South Australia Mental Health Coalition executive director Geoff Harris said there was a large amount of stress in the community.

“We have had to absorb an enormous amount of bad, complicated and at times conflicting information,” he said.

“Each of us has had to assess the risk and decide how we are going to modify our behaviour in response.

“Services like a peer support line are really beneficial in that those who are on the other end of the line have real life experience and know what is going to help someone with their recovery.”

SA Health did not respond to questions before deadline.

Skylight’s COVID-19 Mental Health Peer Support Line is available every day between 5-11pm. Call 1800 02 2020 or access the web chat by following this link.

If this article raised issues for you, LifeLine is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dial 13 11 14. Beyond Blue and headspace are other national organisations offering comprehensive mental health support.

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