How have a Hockeyroo, a community pharmacist and a pharmacy intern been coping with the stress of COVID-19? We hear from them
This week AJP and Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS) brought a third webinar in a series aimed at helping pharmacists, pharmacy interns, students and pharmacy staff to navigate the stress associated with the current pandemic.
‘Staying afloat on the wave of COVID-19 and beyond’ saw Hockeyroo goalkeeper, registered nurse and RU OK? Ambassador Rachael Lynch share the difficulties she has been through over the past several months.
Speaking from Kalgoorlie in WA, Rachael said her team was leading into the Tokyo Olympics “which was all very exciting—and then COVID came along and changed everything for all of us”.
“I was working one day a week at the hospital [as a nurse] as I’ve done for 10 years, even leading into the Olympics we were training six days a week and on my day off I’d go to the hospital. With COVID we went from full-time training to absolutely nothing,” she said.
While her hometown is actually Melbourne, where all her friends and family are, Rachael decided to stay in Perth to commit her time to helping as a nurse during the pandemic and she now work for a private company providing COVID testing around WA.
“I guess the whole experience has made me reflect and take some time to figure out who I am as a person. The Olympics was my goal and that was taken away,” Rachael said.
“While it’s obviously devastating to have the Olympics cancelled, I don’t think the word ‘devastating’ is relevant because there’s people who are dying.”
Things that have helped her during this time include:
- Having/finding a purpose
- Creating routines
- Staying connected with friends and family
- Seeing a psychologist regularly
- Regular exercise
Community pharmacist Elise Apolloni, from Canberra, told over 150 webinar attendees how she became interested in the mental health space.
“I was managing partner of a pharmacy that I still work at – Capital Chemist Wanniassa – and I received the devastating news that one of our team members died by suicide. She was 16 years old,” Elise said.
“That really changed my pathway through my career and life from there. I did not notice any symptoms or signs that my team member and friend was struggling.”
She explained her journey gaining intensive training with Lifeline Australia, eventually going on to become a Mental Health First Aid trainer.
“Answering the phones [for Lifeline], you get a true appreciation of the vast differences of life that people have across the country … the amount of loneliness out there, the connectedness issues that we had before COVID, before the fires. There’s a real sense that lots of people don’t really have too many people to talk to,” Elise said.
She acknowledged the pharmacy staff “working on the frontline right now”, particularly those in hotspot areas, and encouraged them to reach out if they need to talk – either to the person next to you, a pharmacy colleague on Facebook, the PSS, “wherever you need to go”.
“We’re all human and it’s a tough time, but there is life beyond this pandemic, which we all need to remember as hard as it is all across the country right now,” Elise added.
Erin Cooper, a pharmacy intern in Canberra and immediate past president of NAPSA, shared how she has worked through the struggles of doing her internship during the bushfires and a pandemic.
“I moved to Canberra the day before the smoke rolled in, so it was a really lovely introduction to a new state,” she joked.
“From then it’s been a pretty crazy year, as most of you would be aware. It’s been really interesting to learn lots of these things whilst as an intern, but it definitely wasn’t the year I had initially envisioned.
“With that’s come with many struggles, which I’m sure many of you have also been experiencing.”
One of the big difficulties was not having much time with her preceptor due to the pandemic.
“This year’s been absolutely crazy and when COVID hit, our work shifts split into two teams and I ended up in a completely different team to my preceptor, so I was no longer getting to see her each day and chat to her,” Erin explained.
“So I found then that it was also super important to find other people to talk to. I was really lucky that I work on a team with a lot of wonderful pharmacists, so I found myself being able to talk to them when I couldn’t talk to my preceptor.
“It’s also great to have other people to talk to, as you don’t want to be loading everything on one person as well.
“I’ve also found it has been really helpful to find people outside of my pharmacy to talk to, so friends that I talk to most days that I’m very happy to have to also discuss what’s going on and be able to talk to and clear my head when needed.”
Having also juggled NAPSA presidency on top of her internship, Erin said it’s been “really important to find time for myself and do things that I love” – in her case, baking.
Outside of self care, the webinar presenters emphasised the importance of checking in with others.
As an R U OK? ambassador, Rachael said asking that question is really the first part.
While R U OK? Day is in September, she said “hopefully we can all take on board that R U OK? Day should be every day”.
“Asking ‘are you okay?’ is very different to ‘how are you?’ I think we’re all very good at asking that question in Australia but it’s almost like a rhetorical question, so actually asking ‘are you okay?’ It’s probably a little bit more intrusive but in a good way, so it invites people to say ‘no’ if they’re not,” said Rachael.
“The next part is to listen, and listen openly. We’re all good at talking, we’re not great with silence. R U OK? is the perfect example of how important that silence is, to give someone that opportunity to speak – don’t jump in, just listen and listen without judgement.
“Just being there for them is really key, especially for someone that’s going through a crisis or maybe just something really simple, it’s so important that people feel like they’re being heard.”
The next part is encouraging action, she said, for example: “Can we catch up again? Can we talk about it a bit more? Is there someone else you can speak to? Maybe referral to a psychologist or even a friend. Can we go for a walk, coffee or drink? There’s lots of different options to offer that person.” And the last part is following up to check up on the person.
Here are some resources to connect people with who may be struggling right now:
Helplines offering immediate assistance
Pharmacists’ Support Service https://www.supportforpharmacists.org.au/ – support for pharmacists by pharmacists
Lifeline https://www.lifeline.org.au/ – crisis support and suicide prevention
Suicide Call back Service https://www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au/ – provides professional 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people affected by suicide, download ReMinder Suicide Safety Plan app
Mensline Australia https://mensline.org.au/ – support for Australian men, anywhere, anytime
Kids Helpline https://kidshelpline.com.au/ – Australia’s only free, private and confidential 24/7 phone and online counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25.
1800RESPECT National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service https://www.1800respect.org.au/
Organisations offering mental health education and services
Mental Health First Aid https://mhfa.com.au/ – pharmacy specific training courses available
NOTE: FREE Mental Health First Aid training for pharmacists and pharmacy support staff in bushfire-affected areas, to support communities affected by the 2019-20 bushfires – https://my.psa.org.au/s/training-plan/a110o00000A62EM/mental-health-first-aid-bushfire-affected-australians
Beyond Blue https://www.beyondblue.org.au/ – support services using a variety of modalities and resources
Black Dog Institute https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/ – resources, support and research
Headspace https://headspace.org.au/ – Headspace centres are a one-stop-shop for young people who need help with mental health, physical health (including sexual health), alcohol and other drugs or work and study support
Mind Australia https://www.mindaustralia.org.au/ – find mental health services near you
Australian Psychological Society https://www.psychology.org.au/ – find a psychologist plus useful resources
Phoenix Australia Australian National Centre for Excellence in Post-traumatic Mental Health https://www.phoenixaustralia.org/ – resources for those who have experienced trauma
Relationships Australia https://www.relationships.org.au/ – provider of relationship support services, find a service listing
Smiling Mind https://www.smilingmind.com.au/ – resources and a free app to practice mindfulness and meditation for stress management