Psychologists say the levels of anxiety are increasing because of the second period of lockdown that Melbourne in Stage 4 and now the rest of Victoria in Stage 3 are facing with the resurgence of COVID-19 cases.

Pronia Clinical Psychologist Kim Moulton said reports of high numbers of COVID-19 cases meant that people within the Greek community felt that the virus was more prevalent – with a higher risk of contracting it – causing greater anxiety this time around.

“A lot of older people are worried about their own health, as well as for their children and grandchildren. They are worried about the risks and they are more worried for their children than they are for themselves,” she said, adding that many people had found ways to cope better in the first lockdown.

“People found that they could work from home and had become comfortable with that. But in this second lockdown, there are many worried about how they will pay the rent. Those who have lost their jobs see no hope and there is a lot of stress financially,” she said.

“Others are stressing over health issues. The realisation that COVID-19 can affect everyone is generating worry in all age groups.”

Anton Anagnostou, a counsellor at Pronia, said that there were many misconceptions about the virus to the point where people were not looking after their health for fear of contracting COVID-19 while visiting their doctors.

He said this second lockdown was affecting the resilience of people that had helped them to see their way through the first lockdown period.

“A young client recently told me she has had enough and has lost all motivation. There are lots of stories of isolation and of people seeking support from friends and family but not getting it because they too were facing similar problems – they fear taking on more anxieity and stress. Everyone is reaching their limits,” Mr Anagnostou said.

Consultant psychiatrist and secretary of the Hellenic Medical Society of Australia Dr Arthur Kokkinias said that people felt more out of control over concerns for their health this time around. Worries for the businesses and jobs were additional stress factors.

“The mental health concerns are over a huge spectrum, from stress and anxiety to clear cut mental illness, due to stress, the lockdown, uncertainty over the economy,” Dr Kokkinias said.

“The freedoms we had are more restricted now… There is a lot of anxiety over the uncertainty.”

Pronia Manager (Family and Community Services) Mary Sophou said that in the first lockdown, people were anxious but there was a sense of “we can get through this” and that had now shifted to a sense of insecurity.

“The declaration of a State of Disaster (for Victoria) has shifted people’s compass,” she said.

“I have two girls doing VCE this year who will be going into lockdown without knowing if they will see any of their friends this year. They have a life ahead of them but they do not know what the future holds,” she said.

Dr Kokkinias said another worry was that many people were neglecting their health and not following up on normal medical consultations and check ups.

“The key to the health system is the GP (General Practitioner). The GP is the gatekeeper for physical and mental health issues. They are trained and know what to do.”

READ MORE: Experts opinions on the chaos which COVID-19 is causing to our mental health

A major development has been that recent changes to mental health plan mean that the number of free psychological consultations allowed had gone up from 10 to 20 visits.

GPs can decide whether to refer a patient to a psychologist or psychiatrist, said Dr Kokkinias. He added that much of the medical work could be done online through Telehealth to minimise the risk of getting COVID-19.

“The GP is a good way to access care particularly for Greeks with poor English,” he said adding that there were many Greek-speaking psychologists in Melbourne who were there to help.

One of the ironies of the second lockdown was that it had removed the stigma of seeking psychological help that many in the Greek community would have shunned in the past.

Ms Moulton said a lot of people who had underlying issues int he past that they had not dealt with before were now reaching out to deal with these issues.

“For the Greek community there was a stigma in seeking help for mental issues but COVID-19 now gives them permission to look for help and this opens the door for older people to talk about past issues of trauma, conflict in the family and abuse,” Ms Mouton said.

“We can adjust to change but all of a sudden there are a lot of changes to adjust to.”

Mr Anagostou said he had noted a rise in cases of addiction and substance abuse. He said these were developments that would have a negative impact.

He said there was also a rise in online gambling, smoking, domestic violence.

“For many, employment provided an avoidance strategy. Now people have nowhere to go so there is an escalation in these things.”

He said his counselling workload had increased significantly and he said it was very important who were offering counselling services at this time to also seek support.

“My mental health is being affected by this so I keep looking out for new ways to do things. I am lucky to have a garden in my house and I walk there a lot,” Mr Anagnostou said.

Ms Moulton said, “Everyone has been affected in different ways. Self care is very important for us and we also have access to a clinical supervisor.”

Ms Sophou said that counsellors needed to talk about how they felt and to debrief particularly after challenging sessions.

READ MORE: COVID-19 fears cause ethnic community members to avoid seeing their GPs, say peak organisations


Pronia psychologists Kim Moulton and Anton Anagnostou offer some valuable tips
to help you cope in the current crisis.

Anton Anagnostou suggests looking at Mindfulness Apps for Mindful Practice:
• Calm
• Aura
• Insight Timer
• Expectful (pregnancy-related)
• Mind the Bump (Pregnancy specific from Smiling Mind) au/
• Headspace headspace-meditation-app

Or taking time to access:
• Podcasts;
• Audiobooks;
• Read a book out loud;
• Music (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube);
• Make music with your baby using things around the house;
• Watch a funny movie or series; and
• Sing out loud to your favourite songs

Kim Moulton, Clinical psychologist

♦ The Four Pillars to help you cope are: Sleep hygiene, nutrition, staying physically active and social support. Having a regular sleep schedule and practice as well as maintaining a healthy balance of nutritional foods, exercising regularly and socially connecting with others are all pivotal aspects of our physical and mental health that we need to nurture.
♦ Emotion based coping: The great news about emotions is that are momentary. It is important to understand that emotions are like waves they come and they go. They change.
♦ Take a hot bath whilst listening to soothing music or curling up under a blanket with a good book can help with feeling of sadness.
♦Just as talking about your worries and letting out laughter by watching a funny video can help with feelings of stress.
♦Put all your worries aside and turning up the radio to dance to your favourite songs or setting aside  special family time can be ways of changing your mood.
♦ Cognitive distortions: Understanding that as humans we all engage in cognitive distortions when we are feeling either depressed or anxious. This thinking often represents unhelpful thinking styles that do not represent reality. Understanding that we can change our thinking to represent more realistic outcomes is important.
♦Take it day by day – one day at a time rather than focusing on what might happen in the future
♦ Practice grounding techniques/ relaxation/ mindfulness
♦ Altruism: Significant amount of research has consistently showed that focusing our efforts to help other people helps cultivate better emotional health. Although during COVID19 this can be a challenge in itself, you can help.