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How to combat social isolation

Loneliness affects your health in a number of ways – the good news is that there’s plenty of simple things you can do to start making changes, even with social distancing measures in place.

In recent times, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused heightened anxiety, fear and uncertainty in a lot of us.

Many factors, such as fears of infection or infecting others, of running out of supplies, of inadequate and confusing information (for example, understanding the difference between social distancing and physical distancing), experiencing financial loss, boredom, and spiralling unhelpful thoughts can make it even harder to break the depression cycle.

Aman Kaur, MindStep Coach for Remedy Healthcare, says this challenging period means those already living with depression and anxiety may therefore require greater support.

“When we stop regularly doing what is meaningful to us, it changes the way we think and feel,” Aman says. “Research shows that it really is possible to ‘behave’ our way out of depression.

“However, in the current environment, this means that we must be creative and come up with ways to engage in meaningful activities while still adhering to social distancing rules.”

Take the first step to combat social isolation

Nicci Tepper, MindStep® Services Manager at Australian Unity, agrees that a visit to the GP is an excellent start. “Your GP knows a lot about your community and can advise you whether you need to speak to a professional or put you in touch with suitable groups,” she says.

“Lifestyle changes can often bring about loneliness. You might have lost a loved one, moved into a new area, entered retirement or suffered a new illness or injury that prevents you from participating in activities you have previously enjoyed.

“Think back to when in your life you when you weren’t feeling lonely, the activities you were doing and the people you were sharing them with. Try to recreate some of those activities in your changed lifestyle.”

The MindStep® program, run by Remedy Healthcare, is a mental health initiative that offers seven weeks of phone-based social support with trained coaches to assist them overcome feelings of isolation, sadness and low self-esteem.

How you can help

If there is someone you think who may be struggling with social isolation, it’s important to reach out to and let them know you are there for them if they need to talk or even just to pass some time in a way that helps to stay connected (for example, some people are staying on the phone together while watching their favourite TV show or a movie).

By simply contacting people who you know are at risk, you can be a tremendous support pillar for them.

For the elderly, the chronically ill, and immunocompromised people, this is also a very stressful time. With weakened immune systems these people are at the most severe risk of contracting COVID-19.

These people will also more than likely already be socially isolated so any physical, mental and emotional support you can give them will provide a big lift.

Call them to see how they are going, send an email, drop a note in their letterbox if you live close by, or reach out on social media apps. “Don’t underestimate the power you have to offer hope to another person,” Aman says.

Woman standing on the street talking to a man and woman in their doorway

What kind of help does MindStep offer those who are feeling stressed about being socially isolated during this pandemic?

Man working from home, sitting at his desk, patting his dog

The MindStep® program, delivered through Remedy Healthcare, is a mental health initiative that offers six weeks of phone-based social support with trained coaches to assist them overcome feelings of isolation, sadness and low self-esteem.

MindStep empowers you to manage your mental health on your own terms and in the privacy of your own home. It is based on a therapy called low intensity cognitive behavioural therapy, which looks at understanding your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

“We are encouraging people to find a balance of routine, enjoyable and necessary activities,” Aman says. “This might require thinking more creatively and adapting to activities online and in the home.

“We are working with people to help them learn ways to cope with uncertainty and stress, focusing on what’s in their control and letting go of things that they don’t have control over.”

Am I eligible for MindStep? 

Please contact the MindStep team on 1800 322 278 to confirm your eligibility or visit https://www.remedyhealthcare.com.au/welcome-to-mindstep/ to arrange a call at your preferred time.

Remedy Healthcare Group Pty Limited and Australian Unity Health Limited are wholly owned subsidiaries of Australian Unity Limited.

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.

Helping Australians who feel lonely

These are some of the institutions that have resources available to Australians who are feeling lonely or socially isolated.