The arrival and impact of COVID-19 has caused unfathomable disruption to our daily lives. A year on, it’s incredible to consider how we, and the world around us, have adapted to this ‘new normal’. Following initial coverage of the outbreak, conversations around the impact of COVID-19 on mental health were prominent and continue to play an important role in our national conversation. From unbearable tragedies through to global positive change, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of mental health to an unprecedented degree.
As the global pandemic continues to dominate headlines, it’s been a difficult time for all Australians. The negative effects on mental health seem overwhelmingly never-ending - increased financial hardship, the added stress of the pandemic, loss of purpose, increased anxiety and strains on family relationships, particularly the prospect of having to live and work in the same confined space.
It’s clear that additional support, particularly in regional areas, is needed more than ever. Services such as The Banksia Project, a men’s mental health not-for-profit, are here to help. A free service focused on early intervention in mental health, The Banksia Project offers confidential support groups of up to 10 men, who meet on a monthly basis for a couple of hours to learn valuable lifestyle tips, discuss challenges and support each other through life's ups and downs. Volunteer facilitators are trained by The Banksia Project and provided with modules designed by mental health professionals to lead the group sessions and ensure they support any day- to-day challenges that men may be facing.
Since it began in 2015, The Banksia Project has always been predominantly face-to-face. However, due to COVID-19 and its social distancing restrictions, all Growth Rooms have transitioned to become virtual, opening the opportunity for even more Australians to access this free service around the country. As the pandemic restrictions continue to lift, so do the restrictions on face-to-face meetings, with many groups now resuming social activities together.
An example of one of The Banksia Project’s strongest support networks is its Orange community, recently recognised as a highly commended 2021 Community Group of the Year, as part of the 'Orange Australia Day 2021 Awards'. The group, facilitated by two trained volunteers, Brad Kane and Aidan Keough, have become strong advocates for mental health in the local community based on their own lived experiences. Established in April 2019 and currently 15 men strong, the Orange Growth Room meets monthly at Pinnacle Physiotherapy (Lords Place), who has been a great support in providing a free meeting space.
During COVID-19, the Orange Growth Room planned innovative ways for men to stay connected through video calls and dawn walks to the summit of Mt Towac. This built social connection, provided exercise and has remained, since April 2020, as a weekly event.
The Orange Growth Room, and many others around Australia, are a clear example of positive outcomes from COVID-19 - individuals becoming increasingly aware of the importance of mental wellbeing and taking steps to improve their own. While we don’t hesitate to sign up for gyms and various exercise programs, our mental health is often disregarded or not a priority. Individuals and communities alike are becoming aware of the benefits of sharing openly in a friendly environment to manage any challenges they face in their day-to-day.
The key benefit of The Banksia Project is that no matter how remote the location, it is an accessible service for all men to utilise either virtually or in their local community.