A Ballarat mental health clinician supporting business owners and staff with their well-being says many are suffering crisis fatigue, worsened by another snap lockdown.
Jade McIlfatrick is offering her services free of charge from the Commerce Ballarat office to the business community as part of the state-funded Partners In Wellbeing program.
She said many business owners and their staff had been living in a state of constant stress since the coronavirus pandemic began.
"If we are not looking after the mental health and wellbeing of business owners and their staff, what is going to be left at the end of this?," she said.
Frank Ford Travel owner Kylee Ellerton reached out for mental health support for through the Partners in Wellbeing service this year.
If we are not looking after the mental health and wellbeing of business owners and their staff, what is going to be left at the end of this?Jade McIlfatrick, mental health clinician
She said her business had suffered throughout the pandemic, forcing her to let go of staff and constantly fight with travel wholesalers to refund her clients' payments.
"It has been 18 months of refunds for us. With the borders closing we are still doing more refunds. We thought it would stop by now but it is continuing on," Ms Ellerton said.
"It is hard on you mentally. It is as if it is my money and I am fighting hard to get it back for them.
"It is that mental drain of fighting all day every day. I have never been through anything like this before."
Ms Ellerton said meeting with Ms McIlfatrick and talking through her experience made her feel listened to and like she had a voice.
"I went away from it knowing there was someone who actually cared and was listening because the government isn't listening," she said.
"I know lots of people in travel who have had to close their businesses down and they haven't had that support and they are suffering from mental health issues.
"It is good to have that support with a free service.
"I am a strong person, I can usually cope through anything but this has been extraordinary. I have never had to reach out for services before."
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Ms McIlfatrick started in the Partners In Wellbeing role in March and funding for her role has been extended until September.
She said she was seeing a need for the service in the community.
"I have been very busy which is positive in that people are recognising they are needing the support and reaching out," she said.
Ms McIlfatrick said her services included one on one counselling, educational sessions with staff teams about supporting each other and conflict management, and regular videos providing well-being tips.
She said conflict management education was in response to frustrated and angry customers in hospitality and retail with licence checks, check-in enforcement and number limits in venues.
Ms McIlfatrick said she saw the resilience of people in business was wearing down with layer upon layer of hard times.
Businesses reported the latest lockdown was the hardest with no JobKeeper support in place.
"There is a lot of uncertainty there still, how long are they going to have to be in that survival mode?," Ms McIlfatrick said.
Ms McIlfatrick shared some tips to help individuals look after their mental health and well-being.
She encouraged people to look after their own well-being first through good nutrition, exercise, sleep and connecting with loved ones.
"Try to preserve routines wherever possible to create a sense of normalcy in your life. We need routines when everything is chaotic around us, so try to hold on to whatever you can," she said.
"Limit exposure to the bad news stories. Try to focus on the positives where possible and reach out for help if you need it."
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Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett said the state government should consider extending the Partners in Wellbeing role in Ballarat beyond September.
"The longer we see these lockdowns or restrictions stay, the more important it becomes," she said.
"These business owners have been living in a state of constant stress and distress for more than 12 months now and we need to be very mindful of their mental and physical health.
"We need to be keeping a close eye on our business community and providing the support they need to help them cope.
"If anyone out there is feeling like they need someone to talk to this service is open to all businesses and not just Commerce Ballarat members, so please reach out."
Call 5333 3233 to speak to Ms McIlfatrick or 1300 375 330 for support through the statewide service. Financial counselling and business support is also available.
Call Lifeline on 13 11 14 for crisis support.
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