On this International Day of Mental Health awareness it seems apt to pay homage to the two people who have saved my head, and almost certainly my life, on some very hard days. This is not your typical Thank you Speech. No one can play the music to hurry me up or cut to an ad. And Kanye cannot take the mic from my hand.
Through the combined efforts of my GP, Worksafe and the insurance company of my employer, I have sought the help of/been mandatorily sent to see a few professionals over the last five years. The first GP I saw looked terrified and had a generally nervous demeanour which given the subject matter was problematic to say the least. I saw his neighbour at the same practice and here we are today. My GP is always in a hurry, as so many are, but he is one in a million. When you have to see someone every month for a ‘mental health update’ and a new Medical Certificate for Worksafe you get to feel comfortable. Our meetings are routine. A part of my schedule. Every time I go, I think, huh that’s a month gone! There are other times where I think Dear God, it’s soooo long until I can tell him this. My son has grown up in front of his eyes along the way. My doctor has an eye on us both and was so amazing when I was pregnant and trying to stay on at work. I would be crying so hard and refusing a Medical Certificate until he just said NO MORE one day. I am grateful he was there to stop me when I couldn’t stop myself. He is always on at me to exercise more and I’m like, Dude…still trying that gym thing? I don’t know how many people see their local doctor and get to laugh like I (almost always) do. He’s a gem. And I am virtually unable to try for a laugh from any crowd, clearly.
There’s one other professional who has been integral to my mental health for a couple of years now. I have seen so many random counsellors, psychologists and ugh psychiatrists that I know a good egg when I meet one. This woman is one of the best. We fit beautifully. And she knows her shit.
The person I am talking about is a Mental Health Nurse.
Mental Health Nurses work in collaboration with your GP to provide supportive care through a range of services including counselling, home visits, mood and medication monitoring, group work and community integration. MHN work with people who require long term support and engagement. You can access the services of a MHN through a referral from your treating doctor. In my experience, appointments are flexible, forgiveness always forthcoming when you forget the time again and they are always contactable via mobile phone. There is more about the MHN Incentive Program here.
My gorgeous MHN works from a variety of locations and makes home visits. I am permanently wondering if I’m at the right place (possibly, so is she) but I cannot tell you how much I appreciate the flexibility and accessibility of such a service. Now most days I am pretty together and making myself presentable is a large factor in feeling confident enough to go out and be seen in public (lest any of the school community argh see me). I don’t mean that in a rude or patriarchy-victim way – just to say that it is a part of my coping mechanism and how I work. The people a MHN sees in a day make up one motley crew, I can tell you. The needs and quirks of each person would cover such a spectrum that a Mental Health Nurse requires broad training, experience and a personality that is able to engage with all of us successfully. This woman: she’s got it in spades! This isn’t a love letter but here is what she offers me. She is so warm and gentle, always smiling and engaging. In her eyes I see focus, on me, on what I’m expressing. I see empathy. Genuine care and concern. Once or twice I have seen them get a teeny bit watery when I’m really getting raw. I cannot speak for anyone else but when you are raging about being silenced and lied about and there you are, just a pile of stripped back hurt, to see some feeling reflected back in the eyes of the person you’re confiding in is extremely important. Acknowledgement. Validation. Life. Thank Christ! you think, It does sound as shitty as I think it does! I’m not imagining it! And you don’t want to tell just anyone about what Your Weakest feels like so it is important to know that they have human feels. (I’m giving a nod here to the psychiatrists in the Worksafe system. Well done, you, on becoming robots with prescription pads!) My MHN also wears jingly-jangly silver bracelets and asks if she can eat her mandarin in front of me and I completely adore her.
The critical difference I have found that sets this service apart from the rest (when I’m not dazzled by shiny objects on her arm) is the combination of supportive counselling practice and a genuine knowledge of medications and therapies. Supportive Therapy as opposed to Prescriptive (hi, psychiatrists!) or simply Analytical (Worksafe – how you doin’?). She cares. She hears me. She notices little things that may be cause for celebration or alarm…she keeps tabs on me. She explores new avenues of help, ideas from her colleagues and frequent training and I also benefit from the wide range of service users that she works with. People young and old, intellectual and physical differences, addicts working on getting sober to war veterans with PTSD. This broad knowledge of mental health practice and human experience she bears witness to through her work makes for a completely wonderful form of medicine. Human Medicine.
Who’d have thunk it, eh? People do better when they are treated by and as…individual people! Hurrah!
Dear lady, whose name I can’t use (and it’s killing me, Mum always said “‘she’ is the cat’s mother!”), I am so grateful for your presence in my life. You have helped me in so many ways. I am better and stronger for having spent time with you and whoever else you work with is equally blessed. Your positive impact on lives cannot be measured…who knows how working with you may affect my ability to make changes, take risks and build a new identity for myself? It cannot be quantified nor given monetary value. Which brings me to my next point. This. Australian. Government.
The MHNiP is facilitated by Medicare Locals and Federally funded. I pay nothing (nor does Worksafe or the insurance company, mind) for this assistance.
Introduced in 2011, there are 61 Medicare Locals in Australia — independent, federally-funded offices that co-ordinate primary health care at local levels. That may sound like bureaucrat-speak. But it’s a solution to the fact many communities have disconnected health services that don’t really talk to each other or share information. Medicare Locals bring them together, facilitating things like after-hours GP care. They also tailor services to individual community needs — think non-English speakers, Indigenous Australians, the socio-economically disadvantaged, the elderly, and so on.Source: PolitiFact website
In 2012, the Liberal Party (that’s conservative for you international folks, not ‘liberal’ as you may know the word) announced they would “not proceed with” the Medicare Local system if elected, questioning its validity and suggesting it was an unnecessary “layer of bureaucracy”. By May this year the position was officially that the system would be “under review” by an incoming Liberal government. I think we know what that means *arched eyebrows* The future of Medicare Locals, after so much work to introduce them without disruption to service users and umpteen changes to the workplace for the Mental Health Nurses themselves, was raised during the recent Federal Election campaign. The man who would become our next PM (that’s Tony Abbott #sadface) stated to a surprised audience that he guaranteed no Medicare Locals would close under his government. Abbott said they had initially wanted to abolish the program but now would concede to conducting a review – but no offices would close. At the official launch of the Liberal Party Health Policy (Australians, LOL with me here) it was declared that official health policy launch that “while the Medicare Local system may not be shut down, individual offices weren’t guaranteed” (source as above).
I don’t feel full of confidence – do you?
Medicare Locals provide frontline services in consultation with GPs and other healthcare professionals which are flexible and seek to meet the needs of the diverse Australian public. Programs such as the MHNiP support vulnerable people with a variety of mental health needs to remain functioning parents, employees and even tax payers. They assist soldiers and returned servicemen and women. This should appeal to a man who created an entire portfolio for a Minister for ANZAC Day, should it not? These services actually save dollars by diverting users away from other, potentially more costly medical interventions. There is also the preventative aspect which you cannot measure. Early intervention. Immeasurable benefits in dollars and human lives.
That I may not have had the opportunity to work with my Mental Health Nurse and make such progress with her support is a terrifying thought.
That another person may not be able to access this help after “review” and “possible individual office closures” from this government is plain dangerous.
As we talk more openly about mental health and seek to encourage people to ask for help before a crisis, now is no time to be playing semantic games about cost cuts and fiscal policy. Look elsewhere for your savings, Mr Abbott. While Mental Health Nurses and Medicare Locals go about their business of saving lives.