#InThisTogether: How a social movement united the water sector

Humans are naturally social creatures, but in the era of COVID-19, we’ve been compelled to remain physically apart. This has placed a toll on the mental health and wellbeing of many, particularly essential service workers, who remain on the frontline of the pandemic to service the needs of the community. In an act of solidarity, frontline workers from far and wide have united virtually to demonstrate that they are #InThisTogether.

A national conversation about mental health during times of hardship

Mental health is as crucial to our wellbeing as physical health. Throughout COVID-19, the world had been plunged into a period of uncertainty. Foreign concepts like ‘social distancing’ and ‘social isolation’ have become the new norm, completely shifting our sense of community.

As we have been thrown into a state of isolation, the importance of mental health is being highlighted. This has prompted people to find new and innovative ways to stay emotionally and socially connected with their friends, families and communities, whilst remaining physically apart.

Thanks to the Internet, people have developed communities of a different kind – communities that break through the barriers of geographical constraints through the power of digital.

The #InThisTogether movement started as a collection of tips to help people stay connected and stay positive through these trying times. It soon evolved into a social movement of solidarity and support for those in need. The movement has also sparked much needed conversation about the importance of mental health, particularly for essential service workers.

Under pressure: mental health and essential service workers

In addition to the social, emotional and financial burden that COVID-19 has placed on many, the experience of Australia’s essential workforce in the water sector is coloured by unique challenges.

With teams on the frontline servicing critical community assets such as water, wastewater and stormwater networks, specialist in water infrastructure, Interflow, understands the importance of mental health during this time.

Interflow’s Project Manager for Regional Victoria, Fergus Meyer, describes some of the challenges that he and his team have encountered on site throughout the COVID-19 period.

“Although we have robust community management and engagement plans, there will always be individuals who do not understand the importance or criticality of the work we’re performing,” he said.

“There have unfortunately been instances of verbal abuse on-site from community members who disagree with the concept of essential services. That can have an impact on the wellbeing or morale of our teams in the field,” Fergus continues.

This is a common trend for workers in the broader construction industry, with several reports coming to light of unacceptable abuse suffered by construction workers during lockdown.

Staying ‘mentally’ connected for wellbeing

As the second wave of COVID-19 took hold over certain regions of Victoria, mental health and wellbeing were thrust back into the spotlight. For frontline workers in the construction industry, keeping ‘mentally’ connected through virtual means has had a significant impact on people’s wellbeing. For Interflow, virtual communities have created a sense of unity that has seen significant uplift among workers in Victoria, as well as across Australia and New Zealand.

In an act of solidarity, Interflow’s people, like others across the water sector, came together to extend their support to their teammates who were operating under heightened COVID-19 restrictions.

By sharing their #InThisTogether messages across digital platforms, Interflow’s employees were able to transcend borders and provide emotional support for one another, demonstrating the power technology has to unite those who are physically apart.

“It honestly meant a lot to our teams in the field who had been performing essential works under strict lockdown regulations,” Fergus said.

“Their messages acted as a vital reminder that we’re not alone and we have an Interflow family more than 600 strong to lean on throughout these difficult times.”

The tangible benefits of virtual support

Social movements like these have the power to inspire and empower people to meaningfully connect with one another. While our innate need for social interaction has greatly shifted, people have developed new and innovative ways to remain digitally connected and openly talk about their mental health and wellbeing during times of physical isolation.

“This movement has brought together more people than ever thought possible,” Fergus said.

“Imagine having the support of 600 of your co-workers, and the broader water industry to help spur you on when you’re feeling down… it’s powerful stuff.”

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