24 April 2012

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

| ThatUniStudent
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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?

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Michael Murer2:00 pm 12 Aug 21

I have to say I agree with the person writing this. Mental health services in Canberra are shocking. Small minded and I’ve noticed dismisses people with mental health. Personally I’d rather kill myself then call the cat team. I’ve seen this also working for services Australia. So many people feel they do not get help in the ACT mental health services. When people suffer badly from mental health then be assured the mental health team won’t do much.

If you need a good GP for mental health issues, I can recommend Dr Marie-Ange Nambiar in Belconnen. She has a particular interest in mental health and has just completed her Masters. She is very knowledgable and it is easy to get in to make an appointment, particularly if you tell the receptionist that you need to get in on short notice.

Mental Health Worker said :

The Crisis Team has a variable service depending on who you speak to, but try phoning them first rather than just rocking up to the emergency department. If they’re busy when you call, book a time to phone them when they’re not busy – soemtimes the middle of the night can be a good time, and the worker might be bored and have lots of time for you! Also try Calvary Emergency if you must go to a hospital emergency department, as it has more direct access to a lower-intensity psychiatric ward (they call it Ward 2N) if things are that bad that you need to be in hospital.

I can’t let these comments go unchallenged given my experiences of dealing with the CATT team over the years. While the people working there are certainly very caring and I have the utmost respect for how hard they work, the system they work in seems dysfunctional which results in ‘consumers’ simply not getting the services that they desperately need when they need it.

It appears to me that the service is set up primarily to triage to the point that no one can get service. Unless you are brought in by ambulance you won’t get much service from them as they can only deal with the most urgent of cases. Their primary goal seems to be making sure that beds are not filled.

Even patients who have claimed that they are going to kill themselves have been discharged by them. A few years ago that resulted in at least two deaths although in fairness, the details are private so they can’t defend themselves about this making them easy targets. I can however personally testify that even if you clearly state the intent of self harm upon discharge (which is not an easy thing to admit) that you may be discharged. I’m not sure what parameters they use to determine when someone is ready for discharge but it sure seemed odd to me. And the level of post discharge follow up was dismal.

I really don’t like writing this because the individual people work so hard under very difficult circumstances. Once I was admitted to hospital I received the greatest level of care and respect from the people at the coal face. To this day the mental health system stuffs me around and I avoid services such at the CATT team at all costs. It’s just not worth it and there is no value in it for me. I sincerely hope that others have had better experiences.

Without exaggeration I can tell you that if it weren’t for a caring friend who had gone through depression himself, my GP and Lifeline I wouldn’t be here to write this message now. The CATT team did nothing but let me down and interfere with the process. I hope things have changed over the past four years and that the emphasis is more on prevention so that situations such as the OP wrote about don’t get to the point of requiring hospitalisation.

On a positive note, this entire thread demonstrates quite clearly that people have a much better understanding of depression and mental heath issues now. It also shows that people really care.

There are lots of people out there dealing with depression and mental health issues. Hook up with a few of them and I’m confident you’ll experience a lot of recovery and return to your normal life.

Mental Health Worker7:35 am 25 Apr 12

Lots of useful suggestions so far, so some of this is reinforcing them:

if you go to a GP for a Mental Health Plan, make sure you arrange to see a Clinical Psychologist – they are trained to a higher level, but more improtantly the Medicare rebate is higher so they are more likely to be free or near free.

If you’re feeling isolated in Canberra, and there would be more friends and family support in your home town, do consider going home there to seek help, but let the university know rather than just walking away. The uni will probably be understanding and let you take a break. Try to view the move as a positive thing rather than a “failure” because really, if you’re going home for positive reasons, it ISN’T a failure. But you may have to balance up whether your home town has as many GPs and mental health workers. But if it has a local public mental health team, there’s a fair chance it’s less stretched than those in Canberra.

The university services (ANU medical centre and counselling service, UC’s equivalent, both also have Psychology Clinics staffed by postgrad students, and Headpsace at UC) are definitely worth giving a go.

The Crisis Team has a variable service depending on who you speak to, but try phoning them first rather than just rocking up to the emergency department. If they’re busy when you call, book a time to phone them when they’re not busy – soemtimes the middle of the night can be a good time, and the worker might be bored and have lots of time for you! Also try Calvary Emergency if you must go to a hospital emergency department, as it has more direct access to a lower-intensity psychiatric ward (they call it Ward 2N) if things are that bad that you need to be in hospital.

If you (or your family’s if it still covers you) have private health insurance, a GP may be able to arrange admission to Calvary’s private psychiatric facility, Hyson Green, which is very comfy and will get you automatic care by a private psychiatrist.

I know that not everyone can easily get care at home, because they live in shared accommodation, or the accommodation otherwise isn’t suitable for mental health workers to visit. Hospitals can provide more itnensive tretment, than can be safely provided in the community, so they do have a place

The nice story about City Mental Health team won’t help you if you don’t live in their catchment area, you’ll be transferred to the Crisis Team or to one of the others (Woden, Tuggernanong or Belconnen).

Of course, all of the above should have been told to yu when you visited the hospital – it’s sad that it wasn’t.

Good luck.

I’d be happy to offer more personal advice if you can work out how to send a personal message through the RIOT Act website (I’m not sure if you can), but I’m not practising in any field that I can see you.


This thread has some spot on suggestions so please make sure that you action them. Talk to a GP straight away and someone you trust like a family member or friend. You don’t have to face this alone and there are many people who understand what you are going through. If you are feeling down and there isn’t anyone around that you want to talk with about it call Lifeline now.

I’m very impressed that you are taking steps to seek help. As you said, it’s not an easy thing to do and when you run in to obstacles like you have it may seem that it’s impossible. But it ‘s not. There are good people that totally understand what you are going through and will be willing to listen and provide assistance.

Although it may not make sense to you now the facts are that help is out there, effective treatments are available and the darkness will pass. I’ll repeat that last part, IT WILL PASS. You will enjoy life and everything it has to offer.

A follow up post to hear how you are going would be great.

Black Dog Institue in Sydney has a pretty good rep for getting a diagnosis for some things (http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/) – I guess proper diagnosis is the first step to getting treatment?

Good Luck. Light does exist at the end of the tunnel. Even if you cannot see it at the moment.

Elizabethany6:38 pm 24 Apr 12

I would just like to add that Richardson Support House (6291 8009) Bulk bill if you have a health care card/vet card etc for psychologist visits if you have a mental health care plan from your GP. If you don’t have a then they will charge a $5 gap payment, but you don’t have to pay it all then claim it back.

I found the ACT City Mental Health team to be totally amazing. They have a free drop in service located in Moore St, in the City (ACT Health building), second floor.You can just front up at the reception (phone 62051338) and arrange to talk to someone privately immediately. In my experience, they are really good at follow-up (psychiatric/psychological/counseling) and at reading between the lines. The associated Mental Health Crisis Team have a 24 hr number – 62051065 or 1800 629354. They are also amazing and in my experience respond really quickly. I’m told that this team at Moore St currently have 500 people on their books (or perhaps that is the whole ACT – not sure) and seem to be a pretty small team – so bear this in mind in term of how much time they seem to find for people in all types of crisis. I found them life saving and amazing. Tu.

I think the first problem is attending the emergency department, which isn’t as good as it says it is apparently ….

– See a GP. Don’t go to the bulk billing clinics, I think it would be best to see a GP who you can see again although it may cost a small amount. A good GP who doesn’t specialise in mental health issues can probably refer you on to one who can. Ask around for recommendations for a good GP.
– Get some medication. Anti-depressants can (after a few weeks) make things a bit easier so you can see your way out of the hole you’re in.
– See a psychologist. Psychiatrists are few and far between. Psychologists can help you with strategies to manage your thoughts and get back on track. I’m not sure, but I think a GP can refer you to see a psychologist and then some of the cost is claimable on Medicare.
– The Mental Health Unit is for people who are unsafe – either for themselves or for others. Most people with mood disturbances can be managed quite well in the community by their GP.
Telephone help lines as mentioned above are also a good strategy.

I know that others have suggested Lifeline but I would also like to say give them a call. I am a telephone counsellor and I know that apart from counselling services, all Lifeline call centres in Australia have a database of resources and services for callers to access for all States.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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 http://www.ruokday.com.au/content/home.aspx 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 birdie10:57 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.

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; http://counselling.anu.edu.au
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)

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.

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.

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

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.

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…

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.

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?

gentoopenguin9:52 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: http://www.psychology.org.au/medicare/fact_sheet/

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

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