24. Lockdown in Melbourne, COVID fatigue, and mental health
24. Lockdown in Melbourne, COVID fatigue, and mental health
By Alena Lien,
30 November 2021
Hey! How're you going? This is Alena and welcome to the Along Came English podcast.
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Lockdown in Melbourne
Alright. Well, it's been a while.
In this episode, I'm going to talk a little bit about the lockdown here in Melbourne and, as you can tell from the title of this episode, about COVID fatigue and mental health.
For some reason, the lockdowns this year seem to have become international news, I thought maybe I could share a bit about what's going on here. Of course, I'm just speaking from my own experience. This isn't going to be a detailed explanation of everything that happened or is happening here.
It's also affected my mental health, which isn't unexpected. I think it's affected a lot of us mentally. So I thought it made sense to talk about mental health in general, not just about—not just about my own experiences.
So, you might have heard that Melbourne and Sydney were in lockdown for a while this year. Unfortunately, people overseas seem to assume that the whole of Australia was in lockdown, but it was Victoria and New South Wales that had the really strict and long lockdowns. The rest of Australia pretty much went about their daily lives with the exception of being able to travel with the occasional snap lockdowns here and there.
If you're like me and you're really bad at geography, Melbourne is in the state of Victoria and Sydney is in New South Wales. Okay? Okay.
If I'm not mistaken, Melbourne has the world record for the longest time spent in lockdown. I don't have the exact number but it's around 260 days. This is not a world record to be proud of, but yea, anyway, there it is.
With regard to statistics for Australia, total COVID cases so far is just over 180,000 cases, total—total deaths over 1,800. We peaked around 2,700 for daily reported cases in October this year; and most of them were from Melbourne and Sydney.
The Melbourne lockdown has lifted thankfully. As I'm recording now, it's been several weeks. There's been a real push to get as many people vaccinated as possible, and I think it's okay to say now that our numbers are pretty good despite a very rocky start to the vaccination program.
Personally, this year's lockdown was pretty tough for me. When we were in lockdown last year, it actually didn't really bother me that much. I was just—I was just biding my time until life could go back to normal again.
And the phrase here, bide my time or biding my time, means "to wait patiently for a good opportunity to do something." Often it's used in the -ing form to emphasise that it's in progress. So I was biding my time until life could go back to normal again.
So yea, things looked like they were getting back to normal earlier this year. But when the lockdowns started getting longer and longer, it just—it just felt like such a punch to the gut.
A lot of people were really upset about how the pandemic was managed this year. And—and I get it. If the vaccine rollout was better managed, we could have gotten out of the lockdown earlier. If interstate borders were better managed, we wouldn't need to have another lockdown. I mean, do we really need such a strict lockdown to manage the outbreak?
We've also had a few protests here for a variety of reasons. To be honest, I haven't been keeping up-to-date with the news, so I don't know all the details. There were injuries unfortunately and I heard that things got violent, but thankfully I haven't heard of any deaths. I still see protests pop up almost weekly now to protest the vaccine mandate. But yea, I don't—I don't participate in any of them.
Personally, I don't know if all the restrictions were completely worth it. I can't speak for everyone here of course. It was a difficult time for a lot of people and a lot of people suffered even though - even though they didn't get sick with COVID. People who had other illnesses or health conditions had to postpone surgeries and treatments because of the pandemic. People lost jobs and a lot of businesses closed down.
That being said, I mean, there have been some positives here. Tests are still free for those who have symptoms. The vaccine is free even for those who aren't permanent residents or citizens. You can get financial support from the government if you're eligible; it's not enough but it's something. Medicare, the universal health care here in Australia, covers treatment for COVID if you need to be hospitalised. I don't think it's 100% but a fair chunk from the information I could find.
Now of course I'm not saying it's perfect—perfect over here or that we got it sorted. It's not my intention to minimise or invalidate genuine issues here. But, yea, I'm just trying to make the most of whatever situation I'm in, crappy or good.
The phrase, make the most of something, has several definitions. And if you look it up in the dictionary, it means "to enjoy something as much as possible or get the maximum use from something." Now the closest definition to how I intended to use it here is "to deal with and create the best possible outcome of a bad situation or set of circumstances." I'm trying to make the most of the current situation.
Okay? Moving on.
How lockdown has affected me and COVID fatigue
Now during lockdown this year, I realised that my mental health was really affected. I was really struggling to get motivated to do certain things. I was also quite reluctant to do chores. I was ordering takeaway a lot.
I stopped working out around June. And it was a bummer because I'd been doing so well by working out consistently for about five months until that point. Yea.
I stopped reading. I managed 3 books this year, which means that I met my goal for this year but I haven't read anything this half of the year.
My hiatus from the podcast and YouTube was actually unintentional, but it definitely coincided with my mental struggles.
My sleep was also really affected. I was getting enough sleep but I was sleeping later and later. At one point, I was falling asleep at like 5 or 6 in the morning. I mean, I'm a night owl but this was late, even for me.
And this went on for a few months. Like I knew I was in a funk, I mean, everybody was unhappy to some extent. We were just dealing, I guess, in our own way, with the current circumstance.
I don't recall a specific turning point when I decided I needed to do something about it, but I made the decision to see a therapist. And when I explained to her how I've been feeling, she attributed it to the pandemic.
There is something called COVID fatigue or pandemic fatigue. This is about feeling demotivated and exhausted with the demands of life during the pandemic.
I mean, there's been a lot of changes, a lot of disruptions, a lot of "new normals." I also experienced a fair amount of anxiety, I mean, more so than usual and it would be about things not even related to getting COVID, but things like a fear of a break-in, or getting assaulted or getting told off. Thankfully, those anxieties have reduced but it was definitely a weird, weird experience.
Interestingly, feeling cynical is a symptom of COVID fatigue. Other symptoms also include emotional exhaustion, feeling less effective at work, having a deep sense of anxiety about the future and being less willing to comply with health guidelines.
Cynical means to believe that people are generally selfish and dishonest; not trusting in the goodness of people and their intentions. Apparently this was observed in people who worked in demanding environments during the pandemic.
Now I've only seen my therapist a few times, but it's been quite helpful actually. I'm not sleeping so late anymore. I'm feeling a bit more motivated these days and starting to, starting to do things again.
And I've been putting my energy into cooking and baking. I've really enjoyed trying new recipes and posting pictures of my attempts on Instagram. There's also been a few fails of course, which can be frustrating. I tried a pineapple upside down cake recipe but it had too much butter and it came out too oily and soggy. I followed the recipe too but I had to chuck it in the bin.
I've been cutting down on alcohol as well. Now my alcohol intake didn't increase during the lockdowns but apparently it can negatively affect my mood, so—so yea, I haven't been drinking that much lately.
And I'm recording this podcast episode. To be honest, getting this script together did take a while.
But yea, baby steps right? I would like to start working out again and reading again, but yea, I'll get there eventually.
Mental health professionals
So, yea. Let's talk about mental health. Let me start with a few different terms.
A therapist is a pretty broad term to describe someone who specialises in a particular type of therapy to treat mental or physical illness or disability. Examples include a speech therapist, art therapist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist, etc.
There is also a wide range of mental health professionals that include mental health counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, or social workers that provide mental health support.
However, I'd say it's fairly common to use the word "therapist" to refer to a counsellor, psychologist, or psychiatrist that is providing mental health support. And to me, when someone says they are seeing their therapist, I will usually assume it's related to mental health than something else. If someone refers to their therapist, I wouldn't really think they're referring to their physiotherapist or art therapist.
The terms "counsellor," "psychologist," and "psychiatrist" are different.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor who specialises in mental health. With regard to qualification, a psychiatrist studies to be a medical doctor first and then specialises in mental health or psychiatry, which can take about twelves years. For this reason, a psychiatrist can also prescribe medication, which is something a counsellor or psychologist cannot do.
According to the Cambridge dictionary, a psychologist is someone who studies the human mind and human emotions and behaviour; a counsellor is someone who is trained to listen to people and give them advice about their problems.
To be honest, the difference in definitions wasn't that clear to me at first but basically a psychologist has a more scientific approach and goes much deeper than the techniques used in counselling to uncover the root cause of problems. Counsellors have a more person-centred approach and is typically concerned with practical issues such as processing grief or anger, or helping clients to clarify issues, identify options and develop strategies. Psychologists can do what counsellors do but not the other way around.
When I did some research, I thought it was interesting to find out that counselling in Australia is not a regulated profession. Regulated means controlled by rules or laws, usually by the government. So this means there are no particular qualifications required to be a counsellor but some states, including Victoria, require them to abide by a code of practice or a set of rules on how counsellors should behave and work.
That being said, I'd say it's fairly common for counsellors to have completed some kind of course. Most advertised jobs require at least a bachelor's degree.
On the other hand, psychology is regulated. And so is psychiatry, of course. A minimum of six years of education and training in psychology is required to become a psychologist. And it's also fairly common for psychologists to be trained to PhD level. So even though they're also called a doctor, they're not medical doctors the way psychiatrists are.
I don't know if you're aware of this but culturally, here in Australia, we call our doctors by their first names. I know this can be considered highly disrespectful in other countries, but I don't feel that it is here. But yea, this is, this is what we do here.
Cost(s) of seeing a therapist and Medicare
The cost of seeing these different therapists also varies. I think it's fair to say that the price of a visit should reflect the level of qualifications. The other consideration is how much Medicare will cover for each session.
The verb, cover, is used here to mean to protect someone or something from financial loss, damage, accident, etc., by insurance. So Medicare will cover or pay a certain amount of money for different medical services.
As I mentioned earlier, Medicare is the universal healthcare system here in Australia. Basically, Medicare is a publicly-funded insurance scheme for those who are eligible, like citizens or permanent residents.
And there are a few different terms we use here when we talk about how much Medicare covers for a health service or treatment etc.
Bulk billing is when the bill of a health service is sent to Medicare and the patient doesn't have to pay for anything. It is free to the patient, but somebody has to pay for it of course.
As expected, not everything is bulk-billed here. There's something called a medical rebate, which is a partial refund of the full cost of a service. And this difference between the full price and partial refund is known as a gap, or an out-of-pocket cost/expense.
In this case, sometimes the patient will pay for the full cost and then they will receive a partial refund or their rebate from Medicare later. Sometimes the health professional will accept the gap and then get the rebate from Medicare later. So yea, usually it depends on the health professional.
There are also a number of private health insurances here with varying types of cover and prices. Depending on the type of private health insurance you get, it may cover part of the cost of a visit to a therapist. But yea, we don't use the term "bulk bill" when talking about private health insurance, and "rebate" doesn't have the same meaning here. But anyway, I just want to focus on Medicare here.
Because counselling is not regulated, you can't claim any Medicare benefits. For this reason, you also don't really need a referral from your doctor to see a counsellor. And for an hour's session, seeing a counsellor is anywhere between $60-$100.
Because psychology and psychiatry are regulated, you can claim benefits from Medicare. However, you need to get a referral from your doctor first to claim them. Going to a psychologist or a psychiatrist without a referral means you'll have to pay the full price and it can be a few hundred dollars per hour. Full price is anywhere between $160-$260 per hour. But, apparently, Medicare covers about 75%-85% of that.
Bulk-billing psychologists and psychiatrists are not that common, so it's expected there'll be some out-of-pocket fee.
I should also mention that costs can vary depending on the type of service being offered and certain places have a different price for first appointments. From experience, how much Medicare covers can change from time to time and that can affect how much gap the patient has to pay. So, best to call to confirm the costs.
My mental health and my attitude towards mental health
So, about my mental health.
Personally, my attitude towards mental health has changed over the years. When I was growing up in South East Asia, it was not really something that was talked about or we were made aware of. I wouldn't really call it a stigma or a taboo, I think part of the issue is the lack of education about what it is and how it could affect an individual.
Honestly speaking, I've had bouts of depression throughout my life. The first time that I recall was my first year in Melbourne, which I talked about in a previous episode. That time I was able to get through it relatively unscathed.
Depression can mean the state of feeling unhappy and without hope for the future. It can also mean a mental health disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in activities, which can affect your day-to-day activities.
I guess one of the difficulties of recognising mental illness is because it can sometimes be quite elusive. Depression is often unseen. It is quite different from a physical illness or condition where a person has a limp or a physical injury.
Depression can also affect differently and manifest differently in different people. Just because a person is feeling depressed doesn't mean that they will stop going to work or lose their appetite or think about death. For a long time, when I thought about a person who has a mental health condition, my thoughts would go to people in psychiatric hospitals with schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder, you know, things you picked up from movies.
Which, of course, is not always the case.
For me, as a person who has a history of depression, I'd say it's taken me a while to admit that I have a history of depression. Obviously there is my own internalised stigma, but I'm very aware that there is still a fair amount of stigma and discrimination here in Australia.
And to be honest, up until recently, I have not talked very openly about my mental health. I know I'm being open about it here, but, but yea, I'm making a very deliberate effort here to talk openly about mental health.
This is something that I haven't talked to my family about. I've only shared my struggles with very, very close friends. I'd say a lot of people I worked with in the past didn't know what I was struggling with. I studied when I was feeling depressed. I went to work. I still did housework. I went to church.
In general, I've always been a fairly private person and I've also been quite sensitive to people who might not be as open-minded about mental health. But yea, I think—I think you wouldn't really know if someone was depressed or not unless they told you.
And I think going through the pandemic and witnessing certain events in the past year have made me realise that this is a topic that should be openly discussed and well, de-stigmatised.
For example, Naomi Osaka, a professional tennis player, dropped out of the French Open because of her mental health. There was obviously some backlash and she was fined for withdrawing.
Another one was Simone Biles, a four-time Olympic gold medallist, who dropped out of the Olympics this year for mental health reasons, and she would have put her health at risk if she continued - I mean, gymnastics is a dangerous sport if you trip or mess up your routine.
Now I'm not a fan of these athletes, I'm not a sports fan in general, but these events have, in my opinion, encouraged more discussion and openness to talk about mental health.
I also think it's weird how so many people didn't take into account that the pandemic could be negatively contributing to their mental well-being. I mean, we're still in the middle of the pandemic, and I think it's an important contributing factor to acknowledge.
So I don't agree with the criticisms and backlash they received for withdrawing, but I appreciated the fact that they took a stand for their mental health and I am in support of what they did.
Anyway, I'll finish the episode here.
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Well, thank you so much for listening. Stay safe. Have a good day and I'll catch you later. Bye.