Don't discount cost of COVID-19 | Mindful Margaret River

Stuart Hicks (left), who this month handed the role of Chair of Mindful Margaret River to Martin Ringer (right).
Stuart Hicks (left), who this month handed the role of Chair of Mindful Margaret River to Martin Ringer (right).

In a community relatively untouched by COVID-19 infections, it is easy to forget the cost of the pandemic to our mental health.

Stuart Hicks, outgoing Chair of Mindful Margaret River, says that the absence of serious COVID-19 infections in the Augusta Margaret River region has led to complacency about the mental health effects of the pandemic.

"It's clear that many people have suffered and are still suffering financially. That's well known in the community," he said.

"But what seems to run under the radar is the high level of overall anxiety and uncertainty that was triggered at the onset of the pandemic, and now has become entrenched.

"We say we're lucky to be protected from infections, but if you talk to practically anyone, they have stories of separation, stress and anxiety because of travel restrictions and the constant threat of lockdowns.

"We're staring into an indefinite future of being isolated from loved ones, needy relatives and key support people in our lives."

As of July 1, Mr Hicks relinquished his role as Chair of Mindful Margaret River.

"Two years ago, prior to the pandemic we received two landmark reports into social and emotional wellbeing in our community and both of these highlighted serious shortcomings in service provision and coordination," he said.

"A massive volunteer effort, coordinated by Mindful Margaret River, has come some way to addressing the shortfalls identified, but the challenges don't end.

"Now's a great time to hand over to our new chair."

Martin Ringer, who stepped into the role on July 1, is excited but also acknowledges the challenges ahead.

"There is ample evidence from scientific studies that we are facing an Australia-wide crisis in social and emotional wellbeing," Mr Ringer said.

"But the work of a dedicated group of volunteers, with strong support from the Shire has resulted in amazing progress."

"Mindful Margaret River is unique in Australia and so it was a remarkable feat for the creators of this project to have created a vibrant and community-based organization.

"This puts the AMR community in better standing than almost anywhere in the country, but we've still a long way to go, and we rely heavily on an already over-stretched resource of volunteers from the community."

Erin Statz, MMR Project Implementation Officer.

Erin Statz, MMR Project Implementation Officer.

Erin Statz, who was appointed in May as Project Implementation Officer for MMR, shared the optimism.

"We needed to take a breath while we went through the incorporation process and set up of the collaborative position within the Shire, but we're ready to re-energize our wonderful group of volunteers."

She said that past MMR achievements included creating a directory for GP's to increase an understanding of the diversity of mental health support in the area; supporting communities with post-suicide intervention connection; and talking to work place teams about social and emotional wellbeing.

Mindful Margaret River is set to launch a user-friendly web portal for people seeking help and connection in the Shire.

"There are plenty of opportunities going forward for our Taskforce and other interested community members to help locals support locals," Ms Statz said.

"We need to focus on our core business and hope that organizations like Just Home and the Community Centre can help diminish the impact of crises like housing and hunger," said Mr Ringer.

"From our point of view the foundation of good social and emotional wellbeing in any community is how often and how well we simply talk and listen to each other in a way that feels companionable, supportive and engaging.

"Not just small-talk, but talk about real issues in our lives. Our fundamental role is to promote people talking with people for this very reason."

"My personal tag-line is 'talk, listen, connect'".