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An experience of Canberra’s Mental Health service from the consumer’s point of view.

By ThatUniStudent - 24 April 2012 25

Well with my life seriously sucking right now I went to ask for help. Over the past 6 months I’ve fronted up at the hospital to ask for mental health help. Each time I’ve been interviewed, assessed, asked lots of questions, and sent home then not called back again till weeks later. This time I am in a deep dark hole and thinking of how much I just can’t cope with anything any more. I figure it is time to quit uni and head off back home to the town I came from.

Why is it that when you feel your whole life is falling apart that the lousy mental health teams here don’t seem to give a s***? What the heck is the idea behind not bothering to contact people who by their own admission are talking about suicide? In this city where so many country kids come in to attend the universities and are left isolated with no support, why is the mental health services here so bad? When people ask for help it takes a lot of guts to make that first step, so they’re in a pretty desperate situation. So why must they be forced to endure for weeks at wits end?

Anyone know of a good, bulk billing mental health service in this city?

What’s Your opinion?

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25 Responses to
An experience of Canberra’s Mental Health service from the consumer’s point of view.
Padoof 12:07 pm 24 Apr 12

A mental health plan can still be cost prohibitive – one of my children had one, I was paying $170 for each session and got $83 from Medicare. I wouldn’t imagine that this could be an option for you?

It’s a really horrid situation to be in, you’re trying to reach out for help, but unless you are seriously ill, there just aren’t the resources available in the public health system. Does ACT Health still have a mental health unit you can access?

Some suggestions:

Get out an exercise – do you run? get some good music going and pump the pavement. I started years ago with not being able to run from one light post to the next, all the while telling myself how terrible I was at everything. Before I knew it, I was jogging over 5kms and had positive self talk happening, it was a natural progression.

Get in touch with a church group – some are better than others. Check out Kippax Uniting Church, they are renowned for their outreach services, and they won’t bash you with the bible. You will be surrounded by people who really care and will be there to support.

Think about anti-depressents if you haven’t already. They aren’t evil and can level the highs and lows of emotions you feel when you’re not well emotionally, enough so to learn the strategies you need to cope with life.

You are obviously an intelligent person (as most of us Rioters are), you have capacity to turn this around, you just have to believe in yourself – sometimes that’s the only place we can draw strength is from within, especially if your attempts at reaching out is being met with closed doors.

Stay strong, and good luck.

VicePope 12:06 pm 24 Apr 12

I don’t think I can offer suggestions beyond those already made. So, all I can say is that others (like me) have walked down the same path and can tell you it will get lighter and better. Soon, I hope, you will find the practitioner you need and from there on, it’s just a wait until you become able to manage the condition. But it does get better – that’s a promise.
Can you speak to a uni counsellor or sympathetic staff member about the best way to manage what’s happening at a practical level so as to protect your academic status? Even though Canberra is not the nicest in some weather, and some of its denizens are dopes, it does have a lot of medical services – a lot more than one might find in a country town.
Best wishes and remember that most people want to help, but many don’t feel up to offering help.

poetix 12:05 pm 24 Apr 12

If you are in a situation of contemplating suicide seriously, and making plans, give Lifeline a ring on 131114. It may just help you enough that you can then get in touch with someone for more care. You are totally right that it shouldn’t be so difficult to access care.

Remember that you are irreplaceable, and it is likely you will find a way through. (I know this Lifeline number was given before, but in a list of numbers and it may be useful to have it on its own. Enter it into your phone now, so you have it to hand if you need it.)

Truthiness 12:04 pm 24 Apr 12

Canberra’s mental health services are horrid. I once had a psychiatrist who told me to text her anytime with questions, or if anything unusual happened with the new drugs she had me on, told me to think of her as a friend with insights. She had me on a cocktail of 12 different drugs, I would wake up paralyzed most mornings and it was really turning me into a zombie. So one morning I had this really weird dream about killing all my friends, never had anything like it before, so I text her to ask what she thinks. She didn’t text back or call or anything. So I shrugged it off and invited some friends around, next thing I know the police knock on the door and demand I come with them, bailed me up, threw me in the back of a paddy wagon and drove me down the psych ward. Apparently she had told them I was now a threat to others and asked them to detain me. I spent 12 hours in a padded cell waiting for a psychologist to show up and say I was fine. She could have called me, or texted me, she could have said I needed to come see her, anything. But instead I get dragged out of my own house by the police in front of all my friends.

Took me a fair while to trust any mental health professional after that. Eventually I had been feeling down for weeks, and my partner convinced me I should go and talk to a local GP. So I went and saw one of the Gungahlin medical center doctors, and he asked me a set of questions from a checklist without even looking at me. He asked if I ever felt suicidal and I said yes, at that point his whole demeanour changed, he asked me to wait in a room, which he locked, and he called an ambulance for me against my will. So I Macguyvered my way out of the door and ran like the wind, no way I was spending another day in a padded cell against my will.

I’ve had so many bad experience with the “Crisis Assessment Team”, with doctors and psych “professionals” and with emergency rooms who want nothing to do with “crazies”. I have a good GP now, and between us we have kept my depression treated effectively for over a year with just one pill a day. Still, I would never encourage any of my friends to discuss any of their issues with any doctor they didn’t know personally for years, it is just too risky.

I hate to think what my psych file looks like at this point. Committed and detained “x” times for being a threat to others, a string of encounters with system, none of which were required, and none of which helped me, or them, at all. I haven’t hurt any one, I haven’t ever even threatened to do so. All I wanted was to stop feeling so crappy.

Do Not Trust Them.

astrojax 11:40 am 24 Apr 12

hey thatunistudent, are you ok? if not, let someone you care about know – a friend, a family member, a lecturer.

go to your gp, as others here have suggested, and tell him/her. and look on line for some advice and contacts. but get back here and let us know you’re ok. and look at always good advice there.

the world can seem oppressive, but there are many caring folk around who would be very willing to help – don’t be mislead by judging us all on the paucity of care you seem to have had from the very over-stretched hospital services…

pink little birdie 10:57 am 24 Apr 12

The uni’s all offer mental health services that bulk bill students/staff and I’d be guessing that the 2 big GP clinics in Phillip and Belconnen both have bulk billing mental health services.

cubicle01 10:50 am 24 Apr 12

Hey mate,

There are some details below about people you might be able to contact. I was in a situation many moons ago where it was pretty tempting to chuck in uni and go home. Best thing I did was call my dad. At the time I was really reluctant to give him a call but it really helped and it has made a big difference in how we relate to each other all these years later. Give it a go with a family member or friend and again I encourage you to contact someone from the contacts below.



Relevant services for ANU students;
If you need to urgently talk to someone please call one of these;

Mental Health Crisis Service tel: 1800 629 354 (24 hours)

Lifeline Canberra tel: 13 11 14 (24 hours)

Kids Helpline (for people aged 25 and under) tel: 1800 55 1800 (24 Hours)

NoAddedMSG 10:45 am 24 Apr 12

So, if you are an ANU student the ANU Counselling Service is free but in high demand. If you want to go and see them with a normal appointment it is indeed a wait of a few weeks to get in. However they do have shorter (30 min) appointments for emergencies which you can book on the day – but you need to be on the phone to them at 9am exactly to get these. I would suggest calling at 8:30 am and leaving a message on their answering machine that you want an appointment that day, and then call again at 9am.

I don’t know what UC offers, but I suspect they may run a similar system to ANU in terms of last minute appointments.

If you are under 25, have a look at the Headspace website – they offer some online and phone based services which may be of help to you.

If you are employed check out and see if your employers offer any free counselling – some do have arrangements with service providers to offer free counselling to employees.

I know that dealing with mental health services from the consumer end can be hard and confronting. The system is under-resourced, and so priorities have to be assigned, which can feel very unfair when your issues feel all-consuming. If today feels like a crisis point day and you can’t get in to see someone in person I would recommend: calling lifeline, making sure you do a decent amount of vigourous exercise – at least an hour’s worth (sounds cheesy but this really does help), moderate your sugar intake (ie don’t sugar binge), don’t drink alcohol and make sure you have someone around in the evening to keep you company.

As gentoopenguin said, just think about today. If you are having one of those days when you feel that urgent pressure for things to change (like you just want to step out of your skin) recognise that it will fade soon. On those bad days it feels like you have no time, but you do have time. You have time to work on feeling better – so make an appointment with a counsellor, even if it is a few weeks away, and then focus on taking it one day at a time until then. You do not have to fix everything today, and indeed you can’t fix everything today. It takes time, so allow yourself to have that time.

deejay 10:41 am 24 Apr 12

Not in this town, no, but if you hop on a train to Sydney for a day or two and go to any of the mental health aware GPs in Rozelle, Balmain, Sydney Uni (University Health Service at Sydney Uni is pretty good as a starting point for people in crisis, and they bulk bill), etc, you should be able to find something. It won’t necessarily be the comprehensive health care you really need, but it should get you started. I have a mental illness and work in Canberra, and I still go to Sydney every month for CBT and treatment. It’s well worth the $30 train ride (and as a student it should cost you less). The idiot doctors in Canberra don’t even check my blood for the many, many things that can go wrong in response to my medication, let alone do a Beck depression inventory or any quantitative measurement of how I am.

I know you shouldn’t have to do it that way, but frankly, if we’re talking what will help you fast rather than what should be available, Sydney’s probably the most direct pathway.

Bennop 10:33 am 24 Apr 12

If you are an ANU student they bulk bill- and may have referral information for the kind of services you are after.

carnardly 10:24 am 24 Apr 12

have you gone and said all this to a GP? that should be your first call rather than the hospital. As the poster above said – you can get a mental health plan.

juicyrain 10:20 am 24 Apr 12

I’ve heard great feedback about the Headspace centres, both from advocates and a bunch of friends I know who use the services they have. Theres one at Canberra Uni. They’re really down to earth and you can go in and chat with them…and I doubt they’d leave you hanging like the hospital seems to have done…

watto23 10:18 am 24 Apr 12

Agreed, see your GP (i’m sure the Uni has a bulk billed service for students).
I went through a GP a few years ago and you get 12 sessions a year i think covered under medicare.
The system is not perfect i agree, but this is a symptom of health care in general.

rescuedg 9:57 am 24 Apr 12

I sympathise with your situation and hope you can find some help. The mental health teams in Canberra are chronically overworked/understaffed. I think it is less of a case of not being bothered, more a case of not enough hours in a day. The teams are forced to have a backlog of clients they know need help because they have to manage the clients they are already treating.

Have you tried accessing help through uni? If you havent already, see the uni doctor and see if they can help you in the first instance and beyond that getting a referral. I thought the unis also had specialised services to assist?

gentoopenguin 9:52 am 24 Apr 12

Have you seen your GP and asked for a mental health plan? You can see a psychologist as an out-patient and receive a Medicare rebate under this scheme. For more info, see here:

Good luck. I know it’s tough but just try to get through one day at a time.

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