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‘OK to say it’s a difficult time for you’

12:10pm September 10 2020

The founders of Waves of Wellness Foundation and The Iris Foundation discuss mental health challenges during COVID-19. (Josh Wall)

Like most business leaders, Joel Pilgrim has felt COVID-19’s impacts first-hand. 

But as the founder and chief executive of Sydney-based mental health surf therapy charity Waves of Wellness, it’s not financial impacts that are top of mind but potential health ones. 

“It's had a massive impact,” he says.

“We run programs on the sand. All of a sudden, we had to then stop those programs and go into the virtual world. 

“But we've been having amazing success in connecting people who aren't necessarily in coastal locations so they can actually connect with people (to) have those really important conversations and learn the skills to cope.” 

As the annual R U OK? day takes place at a time of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, Pilgrim says it's a really difficult period for many people and “you're allowed to acknowledge that it's difficult for you”. He says it’s important to check in with people, ask if they’re OK, listen and be prepared if their answer is not that “everything is great”, including encouraging them to seek support. 

Amid the rise of WFH and more time at home in general, Pilgrim also advises “getting away from the screens” occasionally and “giving yourself that ability to disconnect away from those distractions” for a chat with loved ones and others who provide support. 

Another simple one? Do something you love. 

“Surfing is my meditation. But if it's not surfing, it might be sewing, it might be going for a run, going for a walk, even spending time with family – do what makes you feel good and do more of it, especially in times like this,” he says. 

Not far away on the NSW Central Coast, Dawn Hooper, the co-founder of The Iris Foundation, says the area has struggled with mental health and suicide rates above the national average even before COVID19. She says despite the pandemic’s impact on holding evens, finding ways to develop and maintain community and connection are critical to provide a sense of belonging. 

“Joining community groups, being a part of what's going on and being a part of the fabric of your local community is absolutely integral,” she says. 

If this story raised any issues for you or you require support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636

The Iris Foundation and Waves of Wellness are Westpac Foundation Community Grants recipients, and Joel Pilgrim is also a 2018 Westpac Scholar. 

Josh Wall is the Head of Video at Westpac Wire. Prior to joining the team, he spent 10 years as a video journalist and documentary filmmaker, most recently as Head of Video for the Guardian Australia. He also worked across numerous News Corp mastheads in Sydney as a presenter, producer, writer and video journalist. Josh is originally from Perth, Western Australia where he began his career by co-creating a video magazine that focused on music and the arts.

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