Family-focused mental health service talks about the path back from bushfires, COVID-19
Northfields Clinic, the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) family-focused mental health service connected with the popular Early Start program, has been providing vital online support to families across the region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as many families in the region contend with mental health concerns arising from a summer of catastrophic fires followed by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
While social distancing has meant the Clinic has moved all services online, Northfields Clinic at Early Start has continued to conduct both group and individual sessions via telehealth services, working with around 40 families regarding their mental health concerns.
Sessions are run by registered provisional psychologists, who are UOW Postgraduate Psychology students, which has enabled them to continue their professional training and development during this time.
Dr Anna Sidis, Clinical Supervision Coordinator at Northfields Clinic said the increased pressure of working from home, online learning, and anxiety exacerbated by the pandemic have left both parents and children in need of a helping hand.
Younger children are working through anxiety and behavioural issues, while for adolescents, the presenting issues have been depression and anxiety, as well as school refusal.
Parents engaged with the service have been seeking support to manage their parenting and stay close to their children, and how to be a supportive parent “without having everything explode”.
Anxiety, Mark Donovan, Northfields Clinic Manager said, was at the heart of many of the issues that the psychologists at the Clinic were treating.
“It has been a really tough year for many. First there were the bushfires, then came COVID, which meant that parents were told ‘Now you are school teachers as well as parents. Now your work has completely changed’.
“Once kids stopped going to school, that presented immense stress on families who needed extra support, but when they returned to school, that also presented issues for those who were struggling to return and had fears around that,” Mr Donovan said.
The flexibility of offering online services, free of charge, has meant that Northfields have been able to help families who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks. It has also enabled greater access for families who might have been unable to attend an in-person session on campus, due to time constraints.
While it is difficult to know when Northfields Clinic at Early Start will be able to move back to in-person delivery, Dr Sidis and Mr Donovan are hopeful that telehealth services will remain part of their treatment services moving forward.
They are also mindful that the effects of this year on the mental health of families might not yet have been felt.
“When you’re in the middle of something, people will hold it together and kick into survival mode,” Mr Donovan said. “But as soon as the threat has passed, the event has moved on a little, people start to process it and grieve. It might hit you further down the track.”
For more information about the services provided by Northfields, see here.