Staying mentally strong during COVID-19

Andrew Thorp

11 minute read

CBE alumnus Andrew Thorp is the Head of Strategy and Planning at Beyond Blue, an Australian not-for-profit organisation that specialises in providing information, advice, and support to help everyone in the country to achieve their best possible mental-health level.

Andrew wants students to know that Beyond Blue is here for them, equipping people with the skills they need to look after their mental health and wellbeing, and creating confidence in their ability to support those around them.

In this interview, Andrew shares his insights on mental health taboos, common wellbeing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and tips on how to alleviate them.

Q. What circumstances led you to the mental health and wellbeing field?

My studies, a Bachelor of Economics with Honours and a Bachelor of Arts at The Australian National University, have embedded a ‘system-thinking-approach’ in me when it comes to conceptualising a problem. I believe complex social problems can only be addressed when organisations focus on enhancing their advantages, so they can play a specific role in the system. My Economics degree also laid the foundation for me to gain strong commercial skills.

Soon after graduating, I moved into a small consulting firm, primarily working in the health sector. Since then, my career has really focused on improving society.

For the past eight years, I’ve been at Beyond Blue, starting out as a project manager. I’ve spent a lot of time learning from formal research and, more importantly, through working directly with people to appreciate their understanding of mental health, and how and why they access help and support.

Now, as the lead strategist, I work with the community, colleagues, senior management and the Board Directors, to learn their perspectives on the current state of mental health support and how the future state can be re-imagined for greater impact.

We do need to get better at telling ourselves that when we’re feeling overwhelmed the best thing to do is to talk to someone.

Q. From your experience, what are some of the taboos you’ve observed related to mental health amongst young people?

Thankfully, a lot has changed over the past twenty years in Australia. For a while now, young people across the country have been provided access to fantastic organisations like Reach OutheadspaceBatyr and Beyond Blue through their schools. These initiatives help young people develop the skills they need to manage their mental health.

Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination still have a real impact on people. Many who’ve experienced a mental health condition, say the stigma and discrimination have been worse than the condition itself.

We know from our research that the majority of Australians understand that a mental health issue is not a sign of weakness, and that anxiety and depression are real health conditions. I think most people know that if you’re worried about someone else, then it’s important to ask them how they are going, listen to them and let them know you are there for them.

However, many people continue to have feelings of guilt, shame or embarrassment about seeking support when they are struggling with their mental health. Often these feelings are related to the anticipation that others will judge them harshly if they disclose that they aren’t doing well. Thankfully, in most cases, those around us are understanding and do offer their support.

Having said that, we do need to get better at telling ourselves that when we’re feeling overwhelmed the best thing to do is to talk to someone. Even though it might be difficult to get an appointment to see a doctor, there are plenty of options available. Those around us and online, who’ve shared the same experiences, are often the best resource.

Whilst stigma has decreased significantly in Australia over the years, we must recognise that this has not occurred on the same level globally. Seeking support can be a taboo in some cultures. Another issue is that international students don’t always know how to get support here in Australia. For too many, delays in getting help are resulting in suicide, so it is critical we do what we can to promote the support available.

Being overwhelmed or stressed by the crisis is a normal human response. We all need to remember to be easy on one another and ourselves.

Q. What are some of the common wellbeing challenges students may face during the COVID-19 crisis? How is Beyond Blue working with other stakeholders to address these problems?

Being overwhelmed or stressed by the crisis is a normal human response. We all need to remember to be easy on one another and ourselves, because we’re currently experiencing something very much out of the ordinary. The most common challenges are likely to be:

   •  coping with isolation and the disruption to daily routines
   •  worry about the health of family and friends, particularly if they are far away
   •  fear around others who have not been social distancing
   •  significant stress about financial security if you’ve lost your job
   •  lack of motivation and concentration for study
   •  grief around loss of university experience, particularly for first-year students
   •  uncertainty about being able to travel back to your home country for international students
   •  stress about exam and assessment conditions changing and research projects being disrupted
   •  worry about future employment if you’re scheduled to graduate later this year.<

Beyond Blue is collaborating with a range of mental health experts and organisations and has developed the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service to help people manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health and wellbeing. The Service includes:

   •  articles on how to manage your mental health
   •  a community forum where you can share your experiences and exchange strategies with others
   •  a dedicated phone-counselling team providing advice and support on 1800 512 348.

Beyond Blue works closely with Reach Out to share resources and strategies, including ‘Stories from young people living through the pandemic’.

Reach Out also has a great phone app called ‘NextStep’ designed for young people feeling stressed, down or overwhelmed and who may not know what to do next.

It’s important to ask your loved ones how they are feeling and share your own feelings with people you trust.

Q. Could you list three key tips or techniques that students can use to mitigate such challenges?

• Reduce news and social media consumption if you are feeling overwhelmed
Exposure to large volumes of negative information can heighten feelings of anxiety. While it’s important to stay informed, you may find it useful to limit your media intake. When it comes to COVID-19, it’s important to get accurate information from credible sources like government websites to help maintain perspective and feel more in control.

• Focus on the things you can control and create pockets of certainty in your day
While it is reasonable to be concerned about the outbreak of coronavirus, try to remember that medical, scientific and public health experts around the world are working hard to contain the virus, treat those affected and develop a vaccine as quickly as possible. When so much seems out of our control, it’s important that we try to establish structure to our days to provide some stability.

• Stay active, be connected and have fun
Develop new habits around exercising, talking with your friends and having fun. All of these things are important for your mental health. During this time, it may be tempting to cope in unhelpful ways, such as by using alcohol and binge-watching TV, but it’s crucial to stay as healthy and connected as you can. It’s important to ask your loved ones how they are feeling and share your own feelings with people you trust.


CBE students and staff are encouraged to participate in the ANU Thrive University Mental Health Day on 5 May, an important day to acknowledge wellbeing and mental health. This year ANU Thrive has arranged several speakers to discuss the ins and outs of mental health and wellbeing. The talks will discuss personal experiences, healthy coping mechanisms and how to take care of yourself during isolation.

For Beyond Blue support, visit the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service webpage,
call 1800 512 348 or participate in an online forum.