This article was written on hold to Centrelink by a person with mental health issues, not a mental health professional. Take it with a grain of salt.
Before the process begins
First, breathe. Deep breaths into your tummy, you know, the ones your therapist taught you to do when you feel anxiety coming on. Remind yourself, this could be worth $500, and that you can do this.
Make sure you’ve taken your meds. You’re going to need all the help you can get with this.
Research what you may be eligible for, so you don’t get any shocks down the line. The info is on the Centrelink website, although you may need to trawl through multiple links to find the info you need. Remember to breathe.
There exists a Centrelink website, where you can make a claim online. You need to set up an online account to claim online. So far seems straightforward. However you often need to call Centrelink to get the right security settings to make a claim. This is where you may experience a spike in mood issues. Remember to breathe.
Find the right Centrelink Call Centre number, otherwise you risk getting through to an operator, finally, only to be transferred and put at the end of the queue. If it’s for youth allowance (for students, it generally is, unless you’re indigenous), call 132490. But before you do this, prepare yourself. The wait times on the phone are generally f*cking deplorable, and can range from 15-90+ mins, in my experience. Sometimes, you can’t even get into the queue, as the phone will say user busy. I’ve found this to be the most rage inducing part of the process, when you can’t even get into the obscenely long line. Remember to breathe.
If you have one, have your Customer Access Number at the ready. While on hold, Centrelink plays the most horrendous classical music, which is neither relaxing nor entertaining. I’m not sure what the selection criteria was for this, but it’s deranged. Keeping your phone on speaker helps in order to complete other tasks, but will piss off anyone in the near vicinity, just FYI. Make sure your phone is charged, and has plenty of credit, because being on hold for a half hour will chew your credit like nobody’s business. Trust me. Have another device such as a laptop, a snack, and some water handy. Mentally prepare yourself for an ordeal. But you can do this. Breathe.
You may have to go into the office at some point. This will test even the most mentally healthy people. Honestly I wonder if these systems were set up by a moody ten year old, or a stoned person while tripping. A line here for when you arrive, but no reception desk! Another line here for waiting to see a clerk! But special clerks for some kind of special things here, but everybody wait together! If someone asks how long it will take, give them a ballpark figure, give or take an hour! Before entering the office, be prepared. Go to the bathroom, bring a water bottle and some snacks, a nice book and maybe your readings, and a fully charged phone.
Find something you can do while waiting for an operator, a pleasant, mindless activity that won’t distract you too much, and will leave one hand free to pick up the call. You’re in for the long haul now. If you’re feeling extra productive, maybe some cleaning. All this has to happen in close proximity to your phone, so when the operator picks up, you’re ready to take the call. If you have anxiety coping mechanisms, this would be a good time to do them. Make sure you’re as relaxed as you can be, so you convey your issue to the operator in the most effective way possible. We can’t think properly when in the midst of a panic attack, so do what you can to avoid this. Remember it’s not the operator’s fault that Centrelink is such a clusterf*ck. Fuck the Social Services Minister. May he burn in hell. Remember to breathe.
Activities while on hold
Here are some pleasant activities to do while on the phone to Centrelink: Check and reply to emails on your personal, uni, and volunteer accounts, clean your room clip and paint your nails, moisturise your entire body, write a to-do list (if this doesn’t make you anxious/depressed), write an article for Semper, make a snack, browse various social media accounts, browse news sites while trying not to panic about the world burning (maybe don’t do this one), write important uni dates into your diary & wall planner/ plan six months in advance.
I managed to get through all of these activities this time.
Having now been on hold for 58 minutes, I decided to look up some coping strategies. Quite a number of them apply to this situation. Check them out on a site called Good Therapy.org. 1. Practice deep breathing, meditation or relaxation- I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, breathe. 2. Look back on other stressful times- You have gotten through so much to get to this point of being on hold for an hour to Centrelink. You can get through this; this is temporary and will pass. 3. Accept negative feelings- Acknowledge that Centrelink is fucked, and many other broke students are in the same boat, and that we will get through this together. And 4. Engage in pleasurable activities- Eat a nice snack. Check out the gram. Give yourself a foot rub. You deserve to feel nice while going through this suffering. The last tip is to avoid caffeine and alcohol. But honestly if it’s a somewhat reasonable time to drink, and you need a cheeky bevvy to get you through, no judgment from me.
Centrelink sucks. The system is set up to deter people from accessing it, because it’s believed that you wouldn’t struggle through if you didn’t 100% need it, which is total tripe. But it’s worth it in the end. Just remember to report in time; otherwise you will have to go through this whole insane process again. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers, just remember to breathe.