Mental health across Australian society is in crisis, yet government funding for the community services that support mental wellbeing has been reduced, partly due to the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Simultaneously, philanthropy has reduced for both general and special interest community groups, the assumption being that the NDIS will pay for everything that Medicare doesn’t.
Sadly, this isn’t the case, with the groups most affected being the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in our society: Indigenous Australians and people suffering mental illness.
I have experienced the issues relating to mental health from multiple perspectives. I watched my mother struggle with bipolar through her life, her suffering was accentuated by the medicalisation of her condition that didn’t allow her to have a life that walked alongside her mental illness.
The stigma associated with mental didn’t allow her condition to be discussed or even acknowledge that we might also be suffering. There was little safety net or support structure for her or us and the shame was palpable.
I have experienced clinical depression in a more enlightened time. I was funded to have talking therapy. My children and husband -as carers, were supported by community organisations specifically funded by government and philanthropy, to provide this safety net.
I even received funding which enabled me to engage with yoga and meditation teacher training, which was ultimately my saviour physically, emotionally and spiritually. In the last nine years alone this has saved thousands of dollars in care, pharmaceuticals and medical consultations. My suffering and the suffering of my family has been drastically reduced, while massively contributing to society through my teaching and and writing.
I now teach therapeutic yoga and meditation, and give private yoga therapy for people experiencing mental illness, PTSD and chronic conditions, in the community sector.
My fear is that the current user pays, evidence-based environment being created by the NDIS is the beginning of a return to the bad old days of the medicalisation of mental health. Medicalisation works with equipment, medication and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, but doesn’t provide the safety net of community. Treatment without community is a problem.
We need a vital community sector that offers a whole range of services. People from marginalised communities are the least likely to enter into the rigorous and protracted process of NDIS application. They are also most likely to understate the impact of their illness, and therefore most likely to be rejected by NDIS criteria.
And then, even if they are accepted there needs to be the services available that enable them to walk with their illness, and possibly even overcome its dominance over their lives.
The community service sector plays the role of mother, nurturer and carer in our society. It provides the safety net that family and society used to play, unconditional support when the proverbial faeces hit the fan, regardless of your status in society. This is as important for working Australians as it is for people who qualify for a disability pension or a disability parking ticket.
For people suffering mental illness these services include crisis accommodation, access to rehabilitation programs, counselling, financial planning, telephone support, support groups, hang out locations, access to technology, sport & recreation, arts, massage, volunteering opportunities, education and information services, carer nurturing and respite, and most importantly, community services at their best provide an understanding ear for people experiencing crisis, a place for people to land in the midst of their storm.
These services are both therapeutic and preventative and are not offered by the NDIS or Medicare. They are essential for maintaining mental health, preventing mental illness and responding to crisis that can affect any stratum of our society. They provide the care that balances with treatment and equipment – contentment is not just about having the right medical equipment and drugs.
We need to provide a vital and comprehensive safety net for people if and when they fall off the trapeze of modern life. Research shows that mental health is supported by holistically engaging in life; connection with other humans, purpose, nutrition, physical exercise, creative expression, relaxation and meditation/mindfulness. The evidence suggests that these ‘lifestyle’ factors are not luxuries but essential in recovering and maintaining good mental health.
Yet our peak funding bodies are funding and advocating awareness campaigns, pharmaceutical and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT)solutions, whilst reducing funding for small community sector organisations that provide lifestyle support, on the basis they are not evidence based.
I know from my own experience that pharmaceuticals can be part of the solution for anxiety and depression. Zoloft opened a space in my dark and cloudy mind for the sun to shine through, enabling me to find more sustainable solutions for my mental health. I could see and then engage in the possibilities of my life when the medication had calmed the dogs breakfast that was my mind; and medication is essential for the management of mental illnesses.
Similarly, (CBT) is very effective for some people, but only one of several evidence based talking therapies that can help people reframe their mental landscape. And even in this current wave of domestic violence, relationship counselling or therapy is not funded by any publicly accessible pathway. The psychologist who helped me to see the light in 2006 would no longer be funded under the current arrangements and I would have needed to travel an hour into Canberra in a wheelchair and find $150-200 a session – not very likely.
I have been servicing this sector since 2009, and have watched the funding for the safety net services dwindle, staff become burnt out and clients suffer as “luxury” services they depended on to maintain wellbeing, disappeared.
Many of my students claim that the classes I deliver are the most effective solutions for improving and maintain both physical and mental health but if they have to make money they become unsustainable. I have already lost one class and others are threatened because students are unable to pay for a service that used to be free. Many are either not registered for the NDIS, have applied and been rejected or are still waiting for their package.
Recovering and maintaining mental health in a modern society requires all the resources we have available to us and to enable this requires honest and open collaboration between all the stakeholders and a vital and viable community safety net. We are a like a huge and complicated family and a family needs a mother that loves unconditionally and is always available to catch the falling trapeze artists.
Lynnette Dickinson is the author of A Journey to Peace through Yoga, and teaches yoga, relaxation and meditation in Canberra and via Skype or phone. Classes, personalised programs and yoga therapy. Visit www.splendouryoga.com. Listen to Lynnette telling her story click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2, and be inspired.