'Silently screaming': Mental health of stranded Aussies 'at breaking point'

Australians stranded overseas during the Covid-19 pandemic say they feel like they’ve been “forgotten” by mental health services available at home.

Numerous people have come together in a Facebook group for Australians “stuck around the world” to discuss being denied access to Beyond Blue counsellors over the phone when in need of mental health help.

One person said they were struggling with suicidal thoughts when their call with the charity was terminated after revealing they were residing overseas.

“Suddenly her tone changed and she said she has just been informed by her supervisor. That they cannot accept calls from overseas,” the person wrote.

Aussie expatriates collect luggage from their Delhi flight. Source: Getty
Thousands of Aussie expatriates have been trying to get home since the pandemic began. Source: Getty

Other citizens shared their shock over the revelation, pointing out the “critical importance” of such services for those who are struggling.

When contacted by Yahoo News Australia, a Beyond Blue spokesperson promised Australians they have not been forgotten, saying the organisation has been trying to solve the issue for some time with the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

“Beyond Blue knows that many Australians abroad, and their families back home, are experiencing incredibly distressing circumstances," the spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“We care about and feel for everyone who’s affected and we’re grateful to the community for raising this with us because we’ve been trying to find a resolution.

Beyond Blue met with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on Tuesday to discuss the issue of helping Australians stuck overseas.

“Some people who contact Australian support services are in suicidal crisis and need to have access to support on the ground where they’re located," Beyond Blue's spokesperson said.

"This is called a referral pathway and we’re working with DFAT to understand what’s possible here. There are a range of other issues we’re also working to address."

File photo of a woman in despair. Source: AAP
Numerous people have come together online to discuss being denied access to Beyond Blue counsellors over while overseas. Source: AAP

The spokesperson pointed to Beyond Blue’s Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service, which is designed for Australians overseas.

“We know this won’t be enough for everyone, which is why we’re still working hard to find other ways to help,” the spokesperson said.

For urgent help call 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre

For anyone who needs urgent help or has significant welfare concerns, emergency consular assistance is available 24 hours a day by calling the Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) in Canberra on: 1300 555 135 (within Australia) or +61 2 6261 3305 (from overseas).

A spokesperson for DFAT told Yahoo News Australia they are “in discussions with Beyond Blue on support for Australians overseas, including referral services for consular clients.”

Stewart Bache
Stewart Bache, 55, was finally able to return to Melbourne recently after months of waiting. Source: Stewart Bache

“The Australian Government recognises that some Australians overseas are experiencing stress and uncertainty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, impacting their mental health.

“We welcome opportunities to assist with support to Australians overseas, including our existing relationship and arrangement with Lifeline, enabling our 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre to connect callers directly to Lifeline in urgent situations.

The spokesperson said DFAT “provides extensive information and support to Australians overseas, including specific advice on taking care of their mental health and where to get support.”

“Australians overseas can contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate or call the Department’s 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre (CEC) on +61-2-6261 3305.

After struggling through a challenging 2020 and 2021, Yahoo Australia is telling the truth about mental health with real stories from the people who have lived it.

Have a story to share? Email whatsup@yahoonews.com.

Consular officers can provide advice and support including lists of hospitals and English-speaking medical professionals in the country, advice on where to obtain medications, liaise with family or friends or connect Australians to support services in Australia.

“DFAT aims to provide consular assistance to Australian citizens whose welfare is at risk abroad," its spokesperson said.

"Each situation is unique and our assistance will depend on the circumstances and availability of consular resources. Smartraveller provides information on what assistance is available to Australians overseas.”

'People are silently screaming'

Stewart Bache, 55, was finally able to return to Melbourne recently after months of waiting.

He has been vocal about the mental toll of being separated from your home country and the effect it is having on Australians.

Mr Bache runs a Facebook community for Aussies overseas and said he has encountered numerous people who are struggling.

“I had one young woman attempt to post that ‘she had reached the end and saw no way out, f**k this life’. I immediately reached out and started a conversation, where are you? Where is your family?

“As it turned out she had been separated from her young children, and had had yet another [flight] cancellation and was totally grief stricken.

“I could only attempt to get an address, look at her Facebook page, reach out to close relatives to advise and orchestrate connections to local mental health services in her region that not only spoke English but would also help as she was a non-citizen.

“I’m not a counsellor at all and have no training in dealing with such matters and I couldn't rest for days thinking about her,” he said.

Mr Bache said he has also had “challenging times”.

“The feeling of hopelessness, spontaneously bursting into tears, the not knowing and the feeling of total abandonment was at times too much,” he said.

“People are really hurting. They are silently screaming and nobody seems to care.”

The 55-year-old said "Beyond Blue do an amazing job" but urged for them to be given the ability to treat those stuck far from home.

Chris Thompson, an Australian who has been living in Hanoi since January last year, told Yahoo News Australia a “simple phone call could be the difference between life and death” for some people.

The 47-year-old, who has been an advocate for stranded Aussies, said he moved overseas to start a tourism business but Covid “destroyed” it.

He has been able to find another job and is trying to return home, but the cap on the number of Aussies who can return weekly and the cost is a big hurdle.

He said “so many people are at breaking point and defeated."

“It’s become so important to me that stranded Aussies know they are not forgotten and that there is at least someone they can talk to in their darkest times,” he said.

For Community Mental Health Australia, click here.

For Beyond Blue, click here.

For This Way Up, an online course for managing anxiety and depression, click here.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

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