2020 has proved itself to be nothing short of infamous when it comes to being a truly chaotic and disruptive year. Australia, much like the rest of the world has been thrown and stuck into uncharted territory since February. Most of the country has at least spent two months under lockdown and the restrictions that come with it, with Victorians copping the brunt after a second wave and spending 120 days shut away. 

This has been extremely damaging for the economy, with businesses big and small having to temporarily or permanently close their doors. Schools were closed, as students learnt from home, away from friends and teachers. To this the government responded, pushing back the end of year exams to help students cope. Starting the JobKeeper and Seeker initiatives to ensure that businesses and their employees would have the ability to whether this storm. 

However, there is one area that has been severely overlooked and arguably has taken the biggest hit this year, mental health. 

People have lost their jobs, faced financial instability, been separated from loved ones, had to cancel weddings and downsize funerals, all the while simply dealing with the fact we are in a global pandemic. These are all extremely destabilising events on their own but because of COVID-19 for some people, they are occurring concurrently. Which is why it has never been more important for the topic of mental health and how to alleviate it, to be front and centre.

Over the last six months we have seen all sorts of messaging surrounding how people have chosen to spend their lockdown hours. Some wanted to catch up on the array of Netflix shows started but never finished, some were non-stop baking and some were trying skills they never thought to try before. Children have even taken to their local parks and schools to express their creativity and fight off boredom by creating little spoon communities for their neighbours to help grow. Speaking to the resounding positivity and sense of community that is commonplace in creative activities, and what can occur when we strive to make the best of any strange and unprecedented situation. 

If anything, the recent lockdown demonstrated that, when your hands and brain remain idle it can promote listlessness and hinder your mental health, which has become commonplace for people during lockdown. Learning to engage your creative mind and achieve during COVID can help alleviate current mental health issues and bring a more positive future. It is important to note, a person does not have to be creative to create, it can be as simple as working toward creating your life and making changes. This allows people to not only feel more productive but helps you look towards and feel hopeful for the future. Moreover, it can aid in bringing control back to your life, many people have felt adrift this year, moving along and having their life uncontrollably altered in an effort to make Australia COVID safe. Taking the time to be creative and making decisive steps, puts you back in the driving seat and with the power to decide where you go or do next. Studies has shown that engaging “in different creative activities [is] empowering, because it is courageous… [and can help] to build self-esteem and confidence”, areas that have been shaken by the sudden shift in everyone’s work and or home life.

‘Mother Earth’ By Deborah Halpern, National Palace Museum in Taipei, Taiwan

This is exactly what renowned Melbourne artist Deborah Halpern has done; kept busy by creating a sculpture, ‘Mother Earth’, that will be displayed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.Striving to make the most out of lockdown this art submissions won a place in the open-air sculpture park and is the only submission from Australia, it is also slated to be the largest and most iconic in the collection. Deborah Halpern is one of Australia’s most celebrated sculptors, known for her wildly colourful mosaic work. Creator of many of Melbourne’s most loved public sculptures, Halpern’s works exude an innate vitality and alluring simplicity. 

“COVID will pass, as will all circumstances, so having a mindset that looks to the future will open up the future, instead of closing it down.”

Over her 33-year career Halpern has produced an extraordinary body of work and through her numerous public sculptures has become widely recognised and respected. One of Halpern’s biggest sculptures, Angel, stood in the moat of the National Gallery of Victoria for many years before it was moved to its current location beside Federation Square on the bank of the Yarra River at Birrarung Marr. Currently, Deborah is working on 4 sculptures that are each 6 metres high which will be featured as part of the M5 freeway project in Sydney. She is working on another sculpture for the City of Casey, and she has several interstate exhibitions in the pipelines. Deborah is also involved in ongoing community projects and property developments. All the while, she continues to conceptualise, draw, and make models for future work.

“I think people can be productive if they can use their creativity to see this time as an opportunity. Dealing with the circumstances of COVID can be a wonderful gift to people willing to think creatively.” 

Deborah Halpern was able to lobby for and achieve the placement of her sculpture in the museum with the help of Jon Michail, founder and group CEO of Image Group International, an award-winning image consultant and personal branding pioneer, who Deborah called “the wind behind [me]”. Over his 31-year career Jon has successfully launched personal brands for business leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers and is an advocate for individual freedom and prosperity and he believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to maximise their influence and impact. Especially in recent times as people pivot and adjust, to strive for success. 

In a recent interview on the Small Business Banter podcastDeborah and Jon detail their collaboration and creating during COVID-19. Finding the positive out of tough situations is never easy, but both Jon and Deborah agree “you just need to have a go”. Especially this year it has been easy to let things slide and simply let the bushfires, COVID and 2020 in general swallow you whole. However, it can be extraordinary to look around, create, find the opportunities that life has presented and make something great out of it. Speaking about the bushfires Deborah spoke of the importance of making “monuments to this event that happened and celebrate the community, there are so many things you can bring into fruition”. Creating can act as a sort of catharsis and a place to put all your energy and feelings about a time and event, it can help you move on and look to the future.

“Creating is about living your life with possibilities.”

Now that we are on the other side of lockdown and we can begin to breathe again, this mindset is much easier to adopt. We can also see clearly how not only do we have much more time on our hands than we previously thought but similarly, how in the past our mental health has often had to take a back seat to various other aspects in our lives. Now is the time while Victoria rides on the high of the increasing freedoms of COVID normal, to dedicate to our mental health, especially when you take into consideration the grim reality that another lockdown could be imminent. Australia could follow countries like France and the U.K as they go into further lockdowns and restrictions, indicating that not only may this be a persistent and ongoing pandemic but that the need to be ready mentally, is increasingly vital but always possible with a positive and creative mindset. 

Deborah Halpern is a multi-disciplinary artist, who works with the mediums of sculpture, painting, pottery, glass blowing and printmaking. She is known for her large brightly coloured mosaic sculpture works; Angel, located at Birrarung Marr and Ophelia, alongside the Yarra River in South Gate, Melbourne. 

Jon Michail is the founder and group CEO of Image Group International, and is based in Melbourne. He is an award-winning image consultant and personal branding pioneer who has successfully launched global personal brands for business leaders, entrepreneurs and change-makers for over 31 years.