For many Australians, the COVID-19 pandemic is having serious effects on their mental health. Loneliness, isolation, and fear of the illness are among the issues people are struggling with every day.
Working in the psychiatric unit at St Vincent’s Hospital in inner-Sydney, Torrens University Nursing student Dincel Fungalei sees first-hand what can happen when staying at home and social distancing rules prevent us from interacting with others.
“The connection between humans is imperative to continue living. When you’re isolated, that’s when the auditory hallucinations can start. That’s when all the mental psychiatric issues start,” Dincel says.
“Being around people can help keep you positive.” Dincel – or Dee to her friends and colleagues – explains that there has been a sharp increase in mental health patients presenting to the psychiatric unit.
“Normally we see patients with drug-induced psychosis being presented in ED (emergency department) and then we take them on. But, at the moment, it’s more widespread. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
“Some of the people we’re treating are backpackers, and others are visitors from overseas. They’re professionals. It’s right across the board and it’s affecting all age groups.
For some patients, there could have been an underlying (mental health) issue that was suppressed while they led normal lives. But the isolation has let it out, so to speak.”
For those who want to support others in these uncertain times, Dee has some practical advice: a simple smile goes a long way.
“People might hide behind a front that they put up, depending on how they are feeling,” she says. “They just really need a smile, a “How are you?” to help them come out from behind that wall.”
Lessons from placement applied in the hospitalDee’s university placements in aged-care facilities gave her experience in hands-on nursing. She is now applying these skills to her work at St Vincent’s.
“When I went into the hospital at first, it was a bit overwhelming,” she explains, referring to the shift away from aged-care. “I think if you really want to be a nurse, it doesn’t matter what setting you’re based in. Doesn’t matter where or what you’re doing, you’re still nursing.”
Dee and the other nurses in her unit are putting in long hours, over stretches of many days. They are experiencing their own type of isolation within the four walls of the ward.
“We have times where we’re flat out, but there are also enjoyable times when we can relax more. Your Nursing experiences are always changing – it’s not always a pandemic and it’s not always relaxed.”
Lifelong learningAfter completing her Diploma of Nursing with Think Education in Adelaide, Dee heard that Torrens University Australia was offering the Bachelor of Nursing course at our Pyrmont campus in Sydney.
She managed her family commitments along with her study and work until COVID-19 struck. At that point, she decided to defer from the course and work full time at St Vincent’s. She sees this as an opportunity to gain practical skills that will complement her studies when she returns to university in February 2021.
“For anyone thinking about studying Nursing I can really assure you that what Torrens Uni teaches is what you need on the field, 100 percent. It’s absolutely amazing,” Dee says. “And once you’ve started your studies, my advice is to keep going. The hard yards pay off immensely. I promise you.
Nursing is so rewarding. If it’s your passion and drive, then do it. It’s a field where you need to have empathy, you need to have passion, you need to have that nurturing nature, you need to want to do something important.”
Looking to the future
The skills she’s developing in psychiatric nursing today will help Dee reach her career goal –to work with women dealing with postpartum depression.
“Many cultures don’t allow you to voice, as a mother, that you’re depressed. Women should be allowed to talk and I want to be one of those who can help them. Let’s do this together, because mothering shouldn’t be done on your own.
I think having the experience of being in the centre of COVID as a nurse, being in the centre of a family as a mother of five boys, I can really relate to these women and I can get them to talk when they mightn’t talk to anyone else. Let’s start with talking.”
If you want to be part of a dedicated team working for the mental and physical wellbeing of people in your community, a Nursing diploma or degree can be your starting point.