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    Emma Kealy, Arnna Pickering and Amcal's Samantha Jende with masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Call to ‘be kind’ in anxious time


Rural Outreach Program leaders have called on community members to be kind to themselves as well as each other as the region adapts to an evolving ‘COVID normal’.

Outreach worker Maggie Bridgewater said people throughout the Wimmera-southern Mallee were dealing with a wide range of challenges and issues, including how to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rural outreach workers respond to community members who are in psychological distress and might be showing signs of mental ill-health. 

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They do not provide therapeutic or clinical interventions but respond to a need for immediate support and help community members to navigate and access services quickly. 

Ms Bridgewater, who became one of three rural outreach workers covering Horsham Rural City, West Wimmera, Hindmarsh and Yarriambiack municipalities about two months ago, said she was seeing a significant amount of COVID-related anxiety in the community.

“It’s hard at the moment, because we’re still not allowed to have large gatherings and events, but some opportunities have opened back up and some people just aren’t sure about what to do during this time,” she said.

“People need to adapt to the ‘new normal’, but that ‘new normal’ keeps changing.”

Ms Bridgewater suggested people try taking ‘little positive steps’, such as going out for a coffee, a walk by the river or other ‘short trips’.

“It’s okay to tell people you’re a bit anxious about being out and about again – we have all spent so much time at home and we haven’t been through this before,” she said.

“Just try taking little positive steps and remember to be kind to yourself and each other.”

Ms Bridgewater said she and her fellow counsellors had received an increase in calls in the past few weeks now face-to-face sessions were allowed to resume.

“One week I had five new callers, the next week another five, the week after that there was four – people have really been hunkering down and now that restrictions are lifting, they are seeking help,” she said. 

Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital and Wimmera Primary Care Partnership have co-ordinated the Rural Outreach Program – which involves 10 other agencies – since December 2018. 

Partnership project officer Krista Fischer said COVID-19 restrictions had created barriers to the program.

“Our calls have been steady all year, but they’ve started to increase now that our rural counsellors are out and about again,” she said.

“The workers have been really happy to get back out because they find people will open up more than over the phone.”

Mrs Fisher said rural outreach workers responded to calls within one to three days to help people ‘get to the right place’.

She said some people who accessed the service wanted the worker to attend or set up appointments for them. 

“Once they do get to the right service, it might be a six-week wait, so the outreach workers can go and support these people until they get to that appointment or right place,” she said.

Mrs Fisher said workers had reported an increase in calls in the past month, with many expressing anxiety about ‘coming out of COVID’.

“Some people are really worried about COVID and won’t even come to bigger centres for shopping. They have really isolated themselves and won’t even leave their house because they are very fearful,” she said.


Mrs Fisher said months of remote learning had also affected families, with many struggling throughout the pandemic. She said she hoped the easing of restrictions would allow the return of the program’s prevention activities, designed to create resilient communities. 

She said outreach workers hosted community sessions and did collective responses to incidents as well as taking a one-on-one approach. 

“We’ve had great feedback from some of the sessions they’ve done in workplaces,” she said.

Mrs Fisher said the success of the program since 2018, detailed in a recent Swinburne program evaluation report, had resulted in interest from other parts of the country.

She said several groups had approached program leaders about the potential of setting up similar programs in those areas.

“We’ve been running for 20 months now and we’re starting to get some traction,” she said.

“We’ve secured funding until June next year and we’re hoping that with establishing ourselves over that period, the Swinburne report and attracting attention from other regions that we will hopefully be able to continue on after June next year.”

The program’s strengths include rapid response times, a non-clinical formal approach and ‘local’, non-stigmatising help for people experiencing difficult and challenging times. 

People can call 1300 688 732 to talk to a member of the team.

The entire November 25, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!

The entire November 25, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!