Recently the CELA office received a moving letter from the Director of a Mobile early childhood service in regional NSW, which is severely drought affected. She raised important issues about the reality of how to manage our own stress and mental health in times of crisis. This week we share her message and story with you, along with information about resources that are available to help us when we are struggling to cope.
“I came very close to losing the plot and I know that we all put too much pressure on ourselves, trying to be everything for everybody,” wrote Bronwyn Sargeant, Director or the Tharawonga Mobile Resource Unit, in her letter to CELA.
On top of managing a mobile service that covered six different remote venues, requiring up to three hours travel per day, at home Bronwyn’s husband was recovering from multiple surgeries while she also cared for her 83 year old mother:
“This meant that during winter, I would leave home before daylight and then return home after dark. I was getting home at 5.30-6pm and then strapping a head lamp to my head to pick up cotton seed to feed to my 140 head of cattle. Once that job was complete, I would come back into the house and start cooking dinner at 7.30pm as neither my mother or my partner were even able to peel a potato.”
Bronwyn was also studying for her Master of Mental Health so she would start writing assignments at 10.00pm at night and then have to be up at 4.30am to start the whole routine again.
“I always think that I can cope and I am a very strong and independent woman. I hate to admit defeat but if I had collapsed with exhaustion, there wasn’t anyone left to look after me,” wrote Bronwyn.
“My Mental Health training teaches that you must look after yourself first. That is great in theory but if I had finished work and gone to the gym each night, my mother, partner and cattle would all have died of starvation. Sometimes putting yourself first just isn’t an option.”
Her lowest point came when her husband had emergency surgery and she was unable to find anyone to feed her starving cattle –
“I had to shoot the three cows one after another. I sat on the dam bank and bawled my eyes out. I didn’t know how I could keep going.”
Fortunately help was at hand for Bronwyn and her family. Some members of her community had called Outback Volunteers of Frontier Services – an agency of the Uniting Church that prides itself on being, “the companion who turns up out of the blue to lend an ear, give a helping hand, and be of service. It’s the Australian way of giving everyone a fair go, and helping other folk.”
For Bronwyn it was literally a Godsend –
“Suddenly, some wonderful people turned up and I showed them how to feed the livestock and they took over that job for me. They cooked meals for us all and took mum and Gordon to their doctor’s appointments for me. They pruned fruit trees and dug in the garden for mum. The relief was incredible.”
Bronwyn’s message to all of us is: “Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it”.
It’s all part of developing what Beyond Blue’s Be You program calls ‘Professional Resilience’
“Professional resilience is our individual capacity to thrive in demanding situations. The choices we make when responding to difficult situations and our attitude and willingness to act, demonstrate resilience. Working together, we can support the professional resilience of our colleagues and ourselves,” they write in a blog which outlines Seven ways to build professional resilience.
Following these steps mean that you hopefully won’t end up needing crisis support:
Build supportive relationships with colleagues.
Strong work relationships contribute to professional resilience because we can share ideas, vent frustrations, obtain support and plan for tackling workplace challenges.
How we feel is often a consequence of how we think. Looking for the positive in situations can lessen stress and allow us to act constructively.
Use your strengths.
Be aware of and draw on your strengths during challenging situations. Sometimes, we’re more easily able to see strengths in others than in ourselves. Try a positive psychology questionnaire or ask a trusted colleague – they may identify something you haven’t.
Do the type of work that you enjoy doing.
When you enjoy your work, you feel satisfied and are less likely to be affected by the work you don’t particularly like.
Professionally resilient people are prepared to act. They focus on what they can do to overcome challenges, reduce stress or manage a difficult situation. You don’t need to go it alone, though. Reach out to trusted networks for support.
Look after your health and wellbeing.
Work towards creating a balanced lifestyle doing things you enjoy: socialising, resting and relaxing, eating well, getting enough sleep and exercising all help to buffer the challenges that come your way. When you’re finding it difficult to cope, it may be helpful to speak to a GP or mental health professional. Taking care of yourself is important.
An element of fun in your workplace can ease stress and make the demands of work easier. It also supports the development of positive relationships that help reduce stress.
When circumstances beyond anyone’s control, like drought, take over – there are crisis support services available. Elsewhere on their website, Beyond Blue have listed a range of drought support services in NSW:
Drought support services in NSW
- The beyondblue online forum – a safe, anonymous space for people affected by the drought to seek support from fellow farmers – bb.org.au/drought-support-forum
- If you are worried about yourself or someone else and need to talk to someone, the beyondblue Support Service is available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week on 1300 22 4636. Webchat and email options are also available via www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support. Trained mental health professionals can provide free and confidential short-term counselling and offer referrals to local support services.
- NewAccess is free coaching service that provides tailored support to people in distress. The service is currently available by phone or face-to-face to people living in parts of Queensland, New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory. Please visit www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support/newaccess/where-are-your-access-coaches-located to find out whether NewAccess is available in your area. You can access the service without a referral from a GP or mental health professional.
Other helplines and resources
- Lifeline: 13 11 14
- Aussie Helpers: Virtual psychologist – call 1300 665 234, text 0488 807 266 or visit https://aussiehelpers.org.au/aussie-helpers-virtual-psychologist-for-drought-affected-farmers/ Donations – www.aussiehelpers.org.au
- Farmer Assistance Hotline: 132 316 (operated by Commonwealth Department of Human Services for information about Farm Household Allowance, income support for farmers)
- Rural Financial Counsellor Service: 1800 686 175 (for advice about locating counsellors in your area)
- NSW Rural Mental Health Support Line: 1800 201 123
- NSW Mental Health Line: 1800 011 511
- 1300 MH CALL: 1300 642 255 (Qld mental health telephone triage service that provides the first point of contact to public mental health services)
(taken from the article: Drought – A crisis in more ways than one, Beyond Blue)
NSW Government assistance
The NSW Government is providing services and support for drought-affected communities across the state, including rebates and savings. To help farmers, families and their communities identify the support relevant to them, Service NSW is sending a Cost of Living specialist to provide free, on-the-spot drought support consultations.
The schedule of outback towns being visited is available at the Mobile Service Centre
For people wanting to support drought-affected families
Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.