18 November 2016

Canberra’s first non-crisis Mental Health Helpline

| Rachel Moore
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From left to right daniel sledge, sandra-cappuccio, neil forman, Zeenat burdick, lachlan atyeo

It is not often you meet someone who loves their job as much as Christine English, ACT Helpline’s Volunteer Coordinator. Except if you’re talking to her Regional Manager Lachlan Atyeo, ACT & NSW General Manager Gavin Bussenschutt or pretty much any other staff member of Wellways Canberra. The team is dedicated and has been working tirelessly around the NDIS roll out.

Helpline ACT, is Canberra’s first non-crisis peer-led telephone support service and was launched in June this year. This unique service provides free confidential information and referral telephone support, to all members of the ACT Community. The Capital Health Network provided initial pilot funding for the helpline, with the aim that Wellways would succeed in running the service outside its initial Monday to Friday 5pm-9pm hours.

The helpline was founded in Victoria in 1978. By a group of people caring for loved ones with mental health issues, who felt frustrated with the mental health services available to them at the time. They thought that with their unique experiences, they could provide much-needed help and support to other people having a similar experience. The Helpline has been operating successfully ever since, with Canberra’s first office providing peer-driven services, for people with mental health issues and the people who care for them.

As of Monday 14 November, the helpline will operate from 1pm until 9pm. Mr Bussenschutt and the team, have the goal set of running the service from 9am to 9pm commencing early next year. “The organisation was previously known as Mental Illness Fellowship or MI Fellowship but it was felt that people needed a name that reflected how people felt about our organisation.” Said Mr Bussenschutt who has been with the organisation since 2009.

Mr Bussenschutt reflects on how the current name came into existence. “The name ‘Wellways’ was initially created by a peer-based, peer run group for carers. After attending the group one Carer said the experience was similar to a road map or a guide on how to achieve wellness. In Melbourne, there is a street directory called ’Melway’ and from there ‘Wellways’ came into existence. A Map or guide to recovery.”

The helpline currently has 5 volunteers and 4 staff members, with the number doubling on the 14th, with 9 new Volunteers having successfully completed their training.

Ms English is excited to get even more staff for the helpline, saying “We would love all people from the community with experience of mental illness to help us”. When asked what kinds of people Wellways are looking for, Ms English was clear “people need to obviously have a lived experience of mental illness, either a consumer or carer, be empathetic, a good listener and enthusiastic”.

Mr Atyeo advised there is no single ‘type’ of person that calls the helpline. “Anyone can and does call. This includes self-referral, parents concerned about children, people looking for social connections and just to fill time so they don’t engage in self-harming behaviours. We also offer outgoing calls to support other community recovery services and that might be calling someone to remind them to take their medication, to help them set good habits around medication. We also spend time talking to people about their well being, just checking in”.

Ms English didn’t know what to expect when she first joined the team earlier this year, “sometimes people call to reminisce about loved ones, chat about the footy or to get through a difficult time at night when they might want to drink. As we are not a crisis service our outcomes are very different and we also get calls from people working in the ACT mental health sector looking for information to give to clients.”

Mental Illness affects 1 in 5 Australians in their lifetimes. Even if you are just having a tough time, Wellways are there to help.

Wellways Peer Led Mental Health Helpline ACT Monday to Friday 1pm-9pm (02) 6246 7180

Photo By Wellways

Story By Rachel Moore


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