CONTENT WARNING: This article refers to self-harm.
A Canberra mother speaking at the launch of a new facility for young people experiencing mental ill health said she wished the service had existed when her daughter first needed help.
Bianca Rossetti said personal experience with mental ill health had not prepared her for responding to her daughter Josie’s issues, which began when she was seven.
“We were told [by Josie’s school] to just keep Josie at home to learn online. Learning online did not help Josie’s anxiety or depression. It actually escalated it,” she said.
“She would have episodes lasting days, locked in her room, refusing to eat or even get out of bed and would just cry. I felt like a failure as a mum.
“Things became worse when the depression and anxiety changed to violence towards myself and my son.”
Josie said trying to manage her mental health from home with her mother “wasn’t enough”.
“I felt that my mum was busy with my autistic brother when I was getting bullied at school,” she said.
“I didn’t want to exist and would self-harm to feel something. My mother tried to help me but didn’t understand that I would get upset.
“I needed someone to speak to and understand me … I needed someone to give me the strategies to help me cope at home, school and the community.”
The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service Adolescent Day Program was unveiled by Minister for Mental Health Emma Davidson to support young people aged between 12 and 18, such as Josie.
The four-week program has been targeted at those at risk of hospitalisation for mental health reasons, with the goal of supporting them to remain in the community.
Each day begins with a ”breakfast club” for children to get to know each other, followed by a structured program delivered by an exercise physiologist, a psychologist, a social worker, and occupational, music and creative art therapists.
An interim model of the program operated out of Calvary Public Hospital’s Gawanggal Mental Health Unit for 12 months at a capacity of eight people a day. However the new dedicated facility in the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children building, with education spaces, a kitchen and dining areas, an activity room, a sensory room and interview spaces, boosts this number to 12.
The new space has also been made much more colourful than the last by Canberra artist and self-professed “chromaphile” Jodie Cunningham, who developed the facility’s interior artwork.
“To change your environment with art and with symbolism and references and colour can actually change someone’s experience of a place and a space and reflect what they’re going through,” she said.
Jodie developed the designs inspired by wildflowers native to Canberra in collaboration with about half of the more than 60 young people who have participated in the interim program.
“After the bushfires and COVID, and with the beautiful La Nina rains, there were wildflowers growing all around Canberra that we’d never seen before,” she said.
“They thrived after great tragedy and great disaster and I think that’s a great symbol of hope and the kids actually really responded to that.”
Jodie said some flowers selected were also culturally significant to the Ngunnawal people, including the purple Hardenbergia, used for medical purposes.
The children also asked Jodie to represent “not just happiness … but also that process of change”, which she did by incorporating the symbol of flowing water.
“Some people were like, ‘Oh, you need to tone it back, it needs to be calming’,” Jodie said. “The kids wanted it to be more high-key, more intense, more saturated.”
The new space was opened as part of a $50 million-plus investment by the ACT Government to expand the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children.
However, the new adolescent unit, which includes six dedicated mental health beds for young people requiring inpatient care, has not yet been opened.