Central Highlands Rural Health have released the preliminary findings of their recent online survey Health and Wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond. 

The survey asked people to think about their physical, social and emotional circumstances before and during COVID-19. It asked: How has it affected your relationships? Your physical activity? Your place in your community? What things have been helpful to maintaining connections to other people and to services? What things have been barriers?

As you might expect, people have been less active during the pandemic. Although the overall reduction was small, the number of people getting very little exercise increased. Similarly, people were less likely to be involved in all kinds of group activities or to be interacting and connecting with family and friends.

The impact of these changes saw many people feeling lonely on more than three days a week and reporting that they were anxious most days. Perhaps, then, it is not surprising that 25% of the people who responded to the survey said their alcohol consumption had increased moderately or significantly.

CHRH Population Health and Wellbeing Newsletter summarised the findings: “The survey has highlighted the significant impacts that COVID-19 has had on individuals living in our community, from not being able to see loved ones or participate in usual activities through to financial stresses and increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

Last month, Hepburn Shire began implementing the state government’s Community Activation and Social Isolation initiative which is intended to address these issues. The key to the program is the coronavirus hotline which offers emotional support but can also link callers to groups in their local area through the council’s Community Connector.

Council is coordinating a Local Support Network of community groups that can offer practical help, someone to talk to regularly or online group activities such as book clubs and fitness activities. The Local Support Network has scheduled training for member groups to provide professional development to staff and volunteers.  The Mental Health and Crisis Support Training, delivered by St John Ambulance Australia, will support the many community members actively delivering supports in response to the pandemic.

In the CHRH survey, people across the community said they are eagerly looking forward to having meals with their loved ones and freely frequenting cafes, restaurants and hotels again.

The COVID Hotline 1800 675 398 is staffed by Red Cross volunteers 24/7. You can also call the council’s Community Connector during working hours on 0408 934 915.