I enjoyed kicking off my RRR MH tour in WA in Albany, a port city 400km south of Perth, with a population of about 30,000. Friendly locals, lovely old architecture and a notable whaling museum well worth a visit to remind us of our past and how practices which we once thought acceptable do change with time. Many thanks to the people I visited who were welcoming and generous with their time and ideas. Thank-you Albany!
In Albany, I visited:
- Men's Resource Centre
- Great Southern Mental Health Services
- Regional Counselling and Mentoring Services
Men's Resource Centre
First meeting of the day was with Grant Westthorp and the team at the Men's Resource Centre who work to assist men to live longer, healthier and happier lives. It was a great way to start my visit.
They go out into local communities and events to speak with men (and women) about their physical and mental health and provide a ‘Pit-stop-Wellness' check. It's a quick assessment of "oil pressure" (blood pressure ) and "chassis" (waist measurement ) and then asks some questions ("shock absorbers ") to see how someone is feeling - whether they're sleeping ok, stressed etc. This allows for possible broader mental health issues to surface. By using humour, the Centre offers men a chance to talk and find out how to get the balance right between physical, mental and spiritual health. It's a worthy mission and they were a very friendly crew.
Great Southern Mental Health Services
My next stop was the Great Southern Mental Health Services, where Marcelle Cannon provided expert insight into the operations of the public mental health system in Albany and the broader area.
We discussed the geographical challenges of providing adequate mental health services in large rural areas, an issue of particular importance in a state as large as Western Australia. The difficulty of attracting and retaining staff in rural areas was another key issue, affecting the delivery of rural mental health services. Unfortunately, there are no simple answers to rural workforce issues but it is an area which certainly needs some creative policy.
On a positive note, Marcelle described the importance of programs such as ‘A Day in the Shed', which is a drought relief and counselling program that is attended by approximately 100 people in each town. These types of initiatives are a great demonstration of the creativity of rural programs designed to reach a broad audience across a large geographical area.
I enjoyed meeting Andrew Wenzel and Kaitlyn Seymour and the enthusiastic team at Headspace in Albany - who provide overall health and wellbeing services to young people in the region. Headspace offers a fantastic program and in addition to mental health services and support, they also provide:
o Drug and alcohol services
o General health services and support
o Sexual and reproductive health services and education
o Vocational support
They had some interesting ideas about the importance of good co-ordination of existing local services, to avoid duplication and to complement each other. And they preferred a loose template for services which can then be adapted, creatively, to respond to local need. The Albany Headspace involves young people on its board. Again they raised the difficulty of attracting qualified staff - mentioning the absence of a permanent child and adolescent psychiatrist in Albany, although there is someone who flies in.
Regional Counselling and Mentoring Services
Speaking to Geoff Bales at the Regional Counselling and Mentoring Service was very interesting. I learned that RCMS provide a valuable community counselling and support service for people experiencing mental health issues and drug and alcohol problems, using practical skill-based counselling through referral to their resident psychologist or a GP. Geoff cited the Better Access program as having been "awesome" for some people.
The service also provides a prisoner outreach service for (pre- and post-release) prisoners in the nearby Albany Regional Prison and assistance to their families, and works closely with other community organisations, such as the Men's Resource Centre.
They are about to start providing crisis accommodation to meet the large demand for homelessness services in Albany. The FIFO (Fly In, Fly Out) phenomenon is also relevant to Albany as some of the workers commute to the mines up north. Geoff observed that some families can manage it well and it allows the dads who are home on leave to take their kids to sport and activities. Others, however, struggle.
Geoff had some particular insights about suicide among men in rural communities, advising that discussions about men's health and mental health needs to be "disguised" behind something else. He advocated training and support for "key players" in the community so they know how to have a conversation with someone who is angry or depressed. He suggested the local shire could run this training, with input from men, helping to alleviate the stigma of talking about these issues.
If you are feeling in distress, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.