Northfields Clinic continues to support families through times of crisis

Service helping parents to manage stress of lockdown and remote learning

Northfields Clinic continues to support families through times of crisis

Northfields Clinic at Early Start, the University of Wollongong’s family-focused mental health service, has been providing vital online support to families across the region throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

While social distancing has meant the Clinic has moved all services online, Northfields Clinic at Early Start has continued to conduct both group and individual sessions via telehealth services.

Dr Anna Sidis, Clinical Supervision Coordinator at Northfields Clinic, said the Clinic has been working with around 40 families regarding their mental health concerns.

The sessions are run by registered provisional psychologists, who are UOW Postgraduate Psychology students, which has enabled them to continue their professional training and development during this time.

It has been a difficult year for families, Dr Sidis said, with the increased pressure of working from home, online learning, and anxiety exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We have been helping younger children to work through anxiety and behavioural issues,” Dr Sidis said. “For adolescents, the presenting issues have been depression and anxiety, as well as refusal to go to school.

“We’ve also been helping parents to manage their parenting and stay close to their children, to be a supportive parent without having everything explode. Having a professional who is able to connect with you in this way can be incredibly helpful.”

Dr Anna Sidis from Northfields Clinic. Photo: Paul Jones

Mark Donovan, Manager of Northfields Clinic, said anxiety was at the heart of many of the issues that the psychologists at the Clinic were treating.

In many regional communities, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated stress caused by the devastating bushfires at the start of the year. Mr Donovan said it was vital that the Clinic continued to reach those in need in times of trauma.

“Our biggest referrals have been for anxiety-related issues,” said Mr Donovan, who is an expert in the field of anxiety.

“It has been a really tough year for many. First there were the bushfires, then came COVID, which meant that parents were told ‘Now you are school teachers as well as parents. Now your work has completely changed’.

“Once kids stopped going to school, that presented immense stress on families who needed extra support, but when they returned to school, that also presented issues for those who were struggling to return and had fears around that.”

Mark Donovan from Northfields Clinic. Photo: Paul Jones

The flexibility of offering online services, free of charge, has meant that Northfields have been able to help families who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks. It has also enabled greater access for families who might have been unable to attend an in-person session on campus, due to time constraints.

While it is difficult to know when Northfields Clinic at Early Start will be able to move back to in-person delivery, Dr Sidis and Mr Donovan are hopeful that telehealth services will remain part of their treatment services moving forward.

They are also mindful that the effects of this year on the mental health of families might not yet have been felt.

“When you’re in the middle of something, people will hold it together and kick into survival mode,” Mr Donovan said. “But as soon as the threat has passed, the event has moved on a little, people start to process it and grieve. It might hit you further down the track.”

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