Bess Harrison sets up Braidwood's mental health group

Bess Harrison

Bess Harrison

Looking after yourself is vital in these times of isolation and uncertainty. Even before the pandemic, one in five Australians had a mental illness; that figure is predicted to rise, and depression and anxiety to worsen.

Braidwood local Bess Harrison has set up an online mental health and self-care affinity group that meets every morning.

"I can't believe I hadn't thought of this before," Bess said. "There are so any times in my life where this would have been very helpful."

Half a dozen people have met over Zoom each day since Friday. The session starts with a 10-minute mindfulness practice focusing on senses. It helps Bess feel grounded, she said. The participants discuss three things they're grateful for, and talk about their intentions for the day, or positive things they want to push themselves to do.

The group is also a social activity during this period of distancing. The participants chat over tea before the session starts. After only five days, Bess has noticed a sense of group cohesion, bonding, and increased joy.

Bess started the group because she saw a gap. "If you're struggling, there are plenty of ways you can sit in a room one-on-one and talk about it; there are a billion counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and life coaches. But not much that's about getting daily life happening.

"For me, that's really good medicine. It's magical to have habits of exercise and meditation. When I lose them, it's really hard to get them back. It helps to have a little accountability. Because we're helping each other out, it's easier to motivate yourself to show up. I've got to do this thing because if no one shows up, the group doesn't happen."

Six is a good number to begin with, Bess feels. But if numbers grow, the group could split off and keep dividing. "I've created a structure that is really simple. It doesn't require facilitation skills. Anyone can do it." The public could set up their own groups, but people who are isolated or whose friends aren't interested are welcome to join hers.

Bess isolated herself early on to look after her elderly mother. Talking to people isolated because of chronic health issues or personal crises, all agreed the pandemic made them feel more connected.

"When the virus hit, it feels quite different to be isolated when everyone's uncertain and having a strange time," Bess said. "All of a sudden, the whole world is thinking about how to support each other in isolation, whereas before they just felt they'd fallen out of the world."

Otherwise, Bess finds connecting to nature helps her avoid stress. Her big garden with bush and waterfall is rather like a retreat. An introvert, she's quite content to get up with the sun and wind down at sunset; to limit her internet use; to forage, garden, and read.

"I've got to be the luckiest person on Earth during this virus," Bess joked.