Let’s talk: mental health during COVID-19

Our fight-or-flight physiological reaction is a response to perceived harmful events or threats of survival that are out of our control. So, what does this mean for you during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic?

For the majority of us who have previously never experienced something as devastating as war, famine or a global pandemic, it’s likely your fight-or-flight system has reached exhaustion during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. It goes part of the way to explaining why people have resorted to odd behaviours such as panic buying large quantities of toilet paper in order to maintain some level of ‘control.’

With anxiety surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19) being seven times worse than it was around the devastating Australian bushfires, it’s little wonder that one in four calls made to mental health charity Beyond Blue are about the current pandemic. In response to these alarming statistics, the Federal Government has bolstered funding to mental health, domestic violence services and charities by committing $1.1 billion to help Australians access vital support during this unprecedented time.

How does this funding help?

$669 million of this funding will go towards expanding Medicare subsidies for telehealth services, meaning you can attend a consult with your GP and other allied health services provider via video conferencing or telephone. Mental health services which are currently under immense strain will be set to receive $74 million. This funding has allowed mental health organisation Beyond Blue to create a dedicated coronavirus wellbeing helpline.

Not only will this funding relieve a massive amount of strain on the mental health sector, but will prevent people from having to leave their house for their appointments – crucial in stopping the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).

How can this help the real estate industry?

As a real estate professional, you’re in a very unique position. In fact, you’re often one of the most trusted resources for property buyers, sellers, owners and tenants alike, so you’re not new to handling crises on behalf of other people. That said, in the wake of coronavirus (COVID-19), those crises appear to be building exponentially particularly when you factor in an buyer, seller and owner’s largest asset/investment and a tenant’s security of shelter. Tenants are concerned about being evicted, property owners are worried about how they can pay their bills, and buyers and sellers are increasing lacking confidence. It’s normal for you, as a real estate professionals (and typically natural-born problem solvers) to want to solve these issues for both your clients or tenants. However, it’s important to know the difference between lending a helping hand and offering advice on matters you’re not qualified in.

Real estate professionals are not trained psychologists. So, if you have a distressed client or tenant, it’s important to arm yourself with a list of resources or support services that can assist when it’s no longer within the scope of your role and experience to assist. Familiarising yourself with the range of government funding and increased services is a great place to start. The Prime Minister’s website provides a comprehensive breakdown of which recipients of the $1.1 billion funding boost will benefit, and how.

Remaining informed across the latest mental health services information too will not only assist your client or tenant more effectively, but will alleviate some of the stress you’re already facing yourself during this unprecedented time.

How can this directly help my colleagues and I?

The decision by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to inject $1.1 billion into mental health services has not only added relief to an already exhausted sector, but it’s allowed for something far more important – it’s opened up the conversation around mental health and destigmatised some of the common anxieties Australians are currently feeling.

In an exclusive interview with Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes, Beyond Blue Chair Julia Gillard said “it’s normal to feel anxious” or experience feelings of uncertainty and loneliness during this time. “People are looking for support to cope with the effects of widespread anxiety and uncertainty, self-isolation and loneliness, family stress, business collapse, job loss and financial hardship caused by COVID-19,” she further explained. Ms Gillard also added that some of the most vulnerable include small business owners and employers, who may be experiencing extreme distress if forced to close their business or stand down staff. “Don’t blame yourself would be a really principle message. People would feel that burden on their shoulders. At the end of the day, the individual business owner did not cause this pandemic.”

Keeping that in mind, it’s imperative for all of you as real estate professionals – despite working in a sector that’s under duress – to take the time needed to look out for one another, share available resources on mental health and most importantly, put your hand up when you’re not coping. Calling your team on Zoom for a Friday afternoon drink or sending a kind email to a colleague may seem insignificant in the interim, but it can work wonders in the long run for overall stress levels and morale.

If you or anyone you know needs help, reach out to one of the following services:

The REIQ is also here to help. You can find a range of resources here which specifically tackle the coronavirus, with information on how to keep your team together while working remotely as well as what financial resources may be available for your agency. REIQ members can also take advantage of the PMSS and Agency Advisory hotlines by calling 1300MYREIQ.