Stress and support structures.

What follows is a discussion of mental health and stress from someone who is, overall, in a good place. None of this is advice of any sort, but is just some personal observations, and some interesting research.

Unless you have somehow managed to live under several miles of rock for the past six months, you know that we are living in very strange world today.

The personal impacts of a global pandemic are many and varied, from the physical isolation, to the impacts on work, loss of jobs, the fear of illness - the list goes on. Any of these can cause stress, and the combination of all, or even just some, of them creates even more stress. The idea of the stress that these can cause, will, in itself, cause stress.

So what to do about it?

We are seeing many families start down a self-sufficiency kick to try and gain some stability in food supply (something, incidentally, that we saw in the Great Depression of the 1930s), an increase in interest in exercise (not seen in the 1930s, but work tended to be more physical then), a massive increase in the use of mental support services and wellness programs (which did not really exist in the 1930s), a lot of comedy (something else that soared in the 1930s), and a whole lot of home renovations and maintenance by owner/occupiers (something I don't have data for for the 1930s).

Which brings me to my rather interesting personal observation.

Now, for the moment, at least, my work is secure. In fact, I am busier than ever, so worry about loss of work is pretty low on my personal stressors - although I am worried about a number of friends who do not have the same level of security. I am not subject to any severe chronic mental health issues, so overall, I am not badly off. But I was starting to feel the pressures.

Then something interesting happened.

My work offered (in addition to their existing counselling services - which are extensive) specific counselling to address The 19.

This is where the interesting bit happened.

I immediately felt my stress levels drop. As in, as soon as I read the announcement.

In other words, the knowledge of a support service's existence was sufficient to have a positive effect.

A quick search while writing this turned up the following quote "Social support alone is not important, but what is important is the belief in the existence of social support." in "The correlation of social support with mental health: A meta-analysis" (Harandi, Taghinasab, and Nayen. 2017) . The paper goes on to discuss the usefulness of support services and social support for mental health matters, and undertakes a statistical analysis of all the other studies in the field. (This idea of meta-analysis to smooth out errors in individual papers is itself a fascinating field that has gained considerable traction in recent times.)

So the effect is already known and documented, but is still fascinating to experience first-hand. And those constant prompts at the bottom of news stories about terrible happenings? It would seem that they have a positive effect, even if the services are not used as a result. It is also interesting to think about how this ties in with the Known Placebo effect, and how a placebo issued by a trusted physician can still have a positive result (and the related Expensive Placebo effect - wherein this effect is enhanced by costing more!)

So to finish - knowing trusted support services exist in itself provides mental benefits, and it is an extraordinary sensation to experience first-hand. With that in mind, here are the publicly available resources:
  • Lifeline on 13 11 14
  • beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or 1800 512 348
  • MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978
  • Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
  • Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
  • Headspace on 1800 650 890
  • QLife on 1800 184 527

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