Margaret Zimmermann of Berkeley will mark her 80th birthday next month but it will hardly be a celebration without her friends and family surrounding her.
In all her time, the Berkeley widow has never experienced anything quite as challenging as the the COVID pandemic and the social isolation that has come with it.
The Spanish Flu was before her time, the Vietnam War didn't personally touch her while even the sudden death of her 23-year-old son two decades ago was not as punishing because she had the closeness of people to help her grieve.
"This is the worst thing I could think of for a human being to go through," she said of the current lockdown. "I hope we never have this again or we learn to live with it a little bit better than what we are at the moment."
Like many, the initial stay-at-home orders were an opportunity for Mrs Zimmerman to clean and declutter her one-bedroom flat, but now she barely has motivation to do much more than the occasional puzzle to deter the anxiety and fatigue taking over.
When it's over she can envisage strangers hugging in the streets, and she too would be ecstatic to "run and yell 'hooray, hooray'".
Suicide prevention hotline Lifeline has recorded a 20 per cent increase in demand since 2019, with their 10 busiest days on record occurring this August.
Lifeline was one of several mental health organisations to receive a funding boost in July from the NSW and Commonwealth Governments to help people who are feeling the brunt of isolation.
Bridget Mitchell was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year and had to undergo chemotherapy when lockdown swept NSW.
But the 28-year-old disability support worker was forced to leave her family home in Dapto due to her weakened immune system and isolate with her boyfriend of seven months in Albion Park, right at a time when she needed all the support she could get.
"It's been really mentally difficult, trying to go through losing your hair and everything," Ms Mitchell said. "You lose your hair and it's something so personal and it's a big thing ... and it's something I thought I would have my sister [Nicole] for."
Upon diagnosis she imagined her sister would be the one to help her through and style her new wig, help her feel beautiful inside and out, and be the one to motivate her to get out of bed and seize the day.
"Instead I went into a bit of depression and wore frumpy clothes and didn't dress in a way to make myself feel nice," she said. "I let the depression take over and not even try to fight through it."
Chemotherapy finished last week for Ms Mitchell and there is nothing she wants more than to give her older sister the biggest hug possible. Zoom chats and phone calls will have to do for now, along with cooking and going for walks with her partner Luke.
Statistics on mental health and self harm are "devastating" for Ms Mitchell, but she wants others to have hope and ask for help if they need it.
"Reach out to friends, friends are there they will listen, they are there to help," she said. "Even I would rush to a friends house if it's that bad ... just reach out, someone will be there for you."
For the first half of the year life was seemingly getting back to normal, so Margot Law and her furry companion Astro (the black labrador cross staffy) packed up their home in the Shoalhaven and moved to Wollongong.
A week later lockdown returned to NSW, but at least they had each other in their new home. Sadly days into the stay-at-home orders, Ms Law's housemate was out walking the 12-year-old rescue dog who became spooked and ran away.
Nine weeks later and dozens of posters everywhere, hope is fading to find Astro, leaving a giant hole in Ms Law's heart.
"I basically get a call every time there's a black dog out and about; I've rescued other people's black dogs and taken them to the vet," she said. "It's pretty devastating, but it has been really nice to see how the community has been so supportive. I get calls all the time and text messages [from strangers] who are like 'I've seen your posters, just wanted to make sure you're okay'."
Albion Park's Rochelle Borton is struggling with "being single without being single" as her blended family is split and her husband is stuck in Canberra for work.
"It's gone beyond intimacy, I would give anything for him to be sitting next to me on the balcony holding my hand," she said. "We're doing all the right things to stay connected, and we know how to take care of ourselves in terms of self care - like psychological, emotional and physical self care but it doesn't change being separated from your partner is not ideal."
Mrs Borton worries what the future will be like as her children (aged 11 to 16). She said they have been "robbed" of connection and may have forgotten social skills once they are back at school, and whether their health will compromised in a crowded environment.
"You crave that connection, and obviously I'm close to my kids, but I definitely don't talk them about my concerns," she said. "Our kids need us to be more focused on taking care of ourselves, like it's okay to feel sad, it's okay to feel a wide range of emotions."
Mrs Borton said she and her husband, along with her children's biological father, have all been open with them about putting mental health on the table so they know it's okay to have up and down days, but to also look for ways to make themselves feel better.
"Recognising in each day what is great has been a really helpful addition to how we operate as a family."
The NSW Government provides a range of free mental health information and services.
- Mental Health Line (1800 011 511 - operates 24/7) can connect you to a mental health service if you are concerned about the mental wellbeing of yourself or someone else.
- Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS) NSW (1800 25 00 15 - operates 24/7) provides telephone counselling, support, referrals and information for those affected by alcohol or other drugs.
- NSW Health have published a PDF of mental health counselling supports.
- Look after your mental health during COVID-19 poster in community languages.
- NSW Mental Health Commission website has resources and supports for people struggling with their mental health due to COVID-19.
- SafeWork NSW Mental health at work during COVID-19 on free resources, coaching and training for employers on how to look after their workers' and their mental health
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