Removing the Stigma of Mental Illness

World Mental Health Day is fast approaching. On October 10, communities across the world will be holding events to raise public awareness of mental health issues. This year there is a special focus on reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, fostering connectivity throughout communities and encouraging people to seek help.

McAuley Community Services for Women understands the debilitating nature of mental illness all too well. At McAuley House, our case managers deal on a daily basis with women with severe mental and physical conditions. Of the 93 women we supported last year, 34% were referred to us from hospital or mental health services and 73% had a mental health diagnosis.

In addition to that we see women escaping family violence who are overwhelmed by anxiety and depression. In the four months between March and June alone, we welcomed 38 women to our safe house and refuges with diagnosed mental health problems.

While our safe and secure accommodation is vital in assisting the women to develop the skills and confidence to move into permanent housing, it is the recreation program that makes the difference.

Run by qualified recreation workers, the program offers daily activities from tai chi through to sewing, gardening, singing, writing and art. All the activities are about building confidence and improving wellbeing, both mental and physical.

The most recent Outcomes Star Report shows improvement in the women’s ability to manage their mental and physical health, independent living skills, with the greatest gain being shown in the development of trust and hope.

Despite this impact, McAuley Community Services for Women has had funding cut as a consequence of mental health reform in Victoria. We are among 25 community mental health organisations that have been stripped of funding. These cuts are not only costing vulnerable people dearly, Victoria is also losing years of knowledge and innovation as a result.

The 25 organisations share a great deal in common: they all are small and have expertise in working with people who are homeless and women who have experienced family violence. They offer similar holistic programs to the one run by McAuley Community Services for Women – personalised support which is accessible, non-judgemental and value for money.

We understand that the reform process has helped simplify a complicated service structure. We also understand that by dealing with larger organisations, it will be easier for the government.

But these reform changes miss the point.

The Victorian Government had been in dialogue with the community sector about reform. The changes go against the principles of that dialogue which included using the expertise of specialist organisations like McAuley Community Services for Women. The changes also pit organisations against each other in contest for diminishing funds.

Even this misses the point.

The women who are supported by McAuley Community Services generally do not seek help. They don’t realise they have a mental illness. They often do not keep appointments. They do not fit into a neat box.

The Government recently stopped new recommissions until results from the current round of funding shifts are known. It has also asked for the community sector to comment about the shortcomings of the process and results of the reforms. McAuley has contributed its views to this request.

In the meantime, we continue to do what we do well: working alongside marginalised women in their efforts to become safe and ready for their own future.
It costs us $15,000 a year to support a woman in McAuley House, including food, accommodation, individual case planning.

As supporters of McAuley Community Services for Women, I urge you to consider making a donation, joining Run For McAuley team in the Melbourne Marathon on Sunday 12 October, or signing up to receive information about our Victorian election campaign.

Jocelyn Bignold
Chief Executive Officer