16 August, 2013

Mental health, what price?

Peter Weymouth, Occupational Therapist, works in a community care unit attached to Mercy Hospitals’ mental health programme. 

Mental health clients attract a number of risks, and in this western part of Melbourne’s perimeter, it may not surprise you that a large part of Peter's time is spent in helping to source accommodation. The public housing waiting list for those who are homeless is anything from 2-4 years. 

The connection of homeless and mental health issues is clear. When there is unstable housing, problems emerge and become more difficult to solve.  Clients may be trapped further into a cycle of mental health risk factors. For example, if the only option is a rooming house and a person is vulnerable to drug and alcohol use, there is a strong chance that they will join others who use such places as a focal point for drug and alcohol use. Irregular routines, poor sleep, poor diet and inadequate social networking, reduced access to health services are all issues faced by people who are homeless, the same issues can perpetuate mental illness.

Stability of housing for clients is the key care need in the recovery for people faced with the challenges of severe psychiatric disability.  Stable accommodation can provide a foundation from which patterns of a healthy life can be developed and promote mental health.

Professor Patrick McGorry, Australian of the Year, has done a lot to promote needs of youth in mental health care, but there is still a huge gap to overcome.  People are waiting in hospital departments for psychiatric beds, case managers are often stretched with large case loads, and GP’s are pushed to their limits in care for those who need extra services.

What can be done? 
Perhaps this Election period can cause us to reflect upon a more marginal issue, one that Australians do not readily ‘buy into’ and which is seen in how resources are allocated. Mental disorder is a leading cause of disease and injury burden in Australia. Funding directed towards mental health care does not reflect the demand.

There is a high likelihood that none of us are exempt from the challenges of mental illnesss. We have all been affected by mental illness in someway. Connected as community members, neighbours, friends and family, there may be much more we can all do. Care for yourself, a carer, a friend, use kind words, avoid discrimination,  get educated, grow in awareness of needs and also possibilities for help.  Let’s see what we can do over the election to agitate for change - writing an email to our local MP’s, asking about their policies on housing and funding for mental health services. 

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