By Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association CEO Mark McKenzie.
Prior to Covid, it would be unheard of for an industry association – particularly one that represents the hardy souls of the fuel industry – to talk about mental health. In that respect, Covid has been a good thing. It has made it easier for people to talk about mental health and well-being which, after all, is just as important as our physical health and well-being.
September 9 is R U OK? day. The timing of this day could not be more appropriate given that many businesses owners (and their family members and their staff) are struggling with the current lockdowns in eastern Australia – and the consequent damage it is doing to their lives and livelihoods. The damage is equally being felt by businesses in non-lockdown states (like Qld and NSW) who are suffering as a result of border lockdowns and the absence of tourist and business traffic.
For the most part, we grudgingly accept the current situation. We secure comfort from the fact that most states will reopen in the next six to eight weeks as we hit critical vaccination levels (and for that reason, all reasonable efforts should be made to encourage all those around us to get vaccinated as soon as practical).
But some of our numbers are doing it really tough. They have become understandably anxious and are unsure how to deal with this anxiety, as it is not something they are normally prone to – or have even experienced before.
I have to admit that even from my perspective, listening to the stories of economic destruction being experienced by some of our members leaves me deflated at the end of the day – and I am not even part of their devastation.
ACAPMA member businesses are reporting dramatic declines in revenues – some as high as 80% – and numerous businesses have been required to stand down staff. While these staff are able to access financial assistance in most cases, many business owners treat their staff like family. They therefore struggle with standing staff down, despite knowing that it is their only way of ensuring that the business will be there for them once the lockdown is over.
Business owners who live and work in the ‘LGA’s of Concern’ in Sydney are living in a particularly oppressive situation at the moment, with both their work and family lives subject to some of the most extreme limitations on freedom of movement that we ever seen in this country.
The situation is being exacerbated by daily Covid briefings announcing ever-increasing Covid case numbers, while our national and state/territory leaders bicker about the timing and nature of the national road out of lockdown.
Running a business can be stressful at the best of times. But it is even harder in prolonged lockdowns, were each day ends with yet another day of financial losses.
But one thing is for sure. Lockdowns will end. There will come a time when we our lives start to return to something largely resembling our lives before the Covid pandemic – and as each day of lockdown ends, we get one day closer to the point of reopening.
The simple fact is that we are going to have to live with Covid and reopen society (including State and International borders) as soon as we reach optimal vaccination rates set out in the new national plan.
For its part, ACAPMA will continue to press all Australian governments to hold to the national ‘Reopening Plan’ and to deliver meaningful financial assistance to affected businesses in the meantime. The association will also continue to support members in understanding the increasingly complex and ever changing Covid restrictions with the release of the Covid Daily Roundup bulletins.
We have, and will continue to, push back on state and territory governments where the restrictions are not considered practical or where enforcement actions have been taken that appear overly zealous or inconsistent with the detail of public health orders.
In the meantime, all of us need to find a way to maintain good mental health and wellbeing in the face of the current challenges. The good news is that there are plenty of resources around to help people suffering depression and anxiety.
The hardest part is acknowledging that we, or someone we know, isn’t simply having a ‘bad day’ – but rather need a bit of help to navigate back to a positive mental health position. Often that is as simple as starting a friendly conversation about how we/they are feeling.
Once that first step has been taken, there are lots of very useful resources that have been developed to assist with mental health and wellbeing.
The Australian government, for example, has developed some great mental health first aid resources for businesses. These resources are intended for businesses owners themselves as well as the people they employ. They can be accessed at ‘Mental health and wellbeing support for business’ at business.gov.au.
There is also some very useful guidance provided on the Australian government’s ‘healthdirect’ website that relates specifically to Covid-19 and mental health (see Covid-19 and mental health at healthdirect).
The reality is that businesses can be repaired or even rebuilt. It is far more difficult to rebuild lives destroyed by mental health trauma.
So, while not wanting to lecture anyone, R U OK? Day on 9 September is a timely reminder about the need to spend a moment focused on our own mental wellbeing and inviting those around us to do the same thing.
Published with permission from ACAPMA.