When life gets a bit shit and you’re not feeling great, reaching out to someone becomes a heck of a lot easier if you know where to look.
Meet Connect Well, a partnership of key organisations who provide community-based mental health and well-being support in Wellington and East Gippsland.
The formation of Connect Well (CW) stems from community need, particularly following the drought that impacted the area. As Susan Scarr, the Bushfire Mental Health and Wellbeing Campaign Manager for Gippsland Lakes Complete Health, outlines, “Those living in agriculture-dependent communities were doing it tough during the drought and the formation of the partnership meant that the agencies involved were able to increase availability and access to counselling, mental health and wellbeing support.”
"People can recover from natural disaster at different rates and no two people will be the same – everyone’s recovery journey is unique and is their own."
The organisations involved in CW are Gippsland Lakes Complete Health; Royal Flying Doctor Service Victoria; Relationships Australia Victoria; Omeo District Health; Orbost Regional Health; Lifeline; Yarram and District Health Service; and Central Gippsland Health. The program is funded through the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.
Susan says, “The benefit to the community includes counselling services and program development and delivery. Through Connect Well, many small communities in East Gippsland and Wellington have had community support and have been able to run events, workshops and celebrations.”
A review of the CW website – connect-well.com.au – reveals the volume of resources, training videos, community stories and key contact details, as well as an events calendar, that have already become available to the public.
This openness is a core tenet of the collective too, as Susan says, “Communication is the key to any partnership and we hold partnership meetings and share information, resources and knowledge.”
Buoyed by how the initiative has been received so far, Susan says, “It has been wonderful to see the community come together, especially after the COVID-19 lockdowns. The growth of the Connect Well Facebook page and website indicates that people are connecting and using our resources – a very positive outcome.
“Having community members help to co-design the CW campaign and the jigsaw logo has been a highlight. One of the best outcomes for the CW campaign was having local people and places filmed for our ads. [The] local champions gave up their time freely to participate in filming and photoshoots because they believe in the aims of CW.”
With CW forming to assist our rural communities that have experienced drought, bushfires and now flooding, we asked Susan how the regions were recovering.
“The impacts of a natural disaster can be long-lasting and many people will have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result. People can recover from natural disasters at different rates and no two people will be the same – everyone’s recovery journey is unique and is their own. The important thing is for people to remain connected, to look out for their own mental health and wellbeing and to look out for their family, friends and neighbours. [Please] seek help and support when needed.”
Community events are a wonderful opportunity to maintain connections and foster relationships. Currently, CW is focused on supporting local community organisations and groups through promoting their events via the website calendar and social media.
Looking forward, Susan shares that the best possible outcome for CW would be seeing positive mental health and wellbeing outcomes for the community.
“It would be wonderful to see increased levels of mental health literacy, that people know where to go for mental health and wellbeing support and resources, and to see reduced stigma around mental health. Another great outcome would be seeing communities continue to work together, to connect and look out for each other.”
Finally, we ask Susan for her prescription for a happy life in Gippsland.
“Take advantage of our beautiful natural environment. Spending time in nature can be a great way to boost our mood. And, connect with others – family, friends, neighbours. Volunteering is a wonderful way to connect with others and to give back to the community.”
Life isn’t always easy, so when things get tough, it’s great to know someone has your back.
If you need immediate support, please see your GP or health service provider.
For crisis support, contact Lifeline at 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue at 1300 22 4636.