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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Alexandra Sutherland

Alexandra works for a community health service and her first full‑time job was as a peer worker. She reflected on the irony that the condition she once thought would end her life became the reason she was employed in her role.

Alexandra recalls that when she was about 23 years of age, she sought help for her mental health through her GP and a psychologist, but recalls feeling they did not seem to consider the social factors that may have been contributing to her sudden decline in mental health.

Alexandra said that not long after that she ended up in hospital when she became suicidal. She wishes she could have known about and had access to more options when she was unwell, such as a community mental health service.

Even though I’d studied psychology and counselling, I didn’t even know about support groups or community services.

There weren’t any options like a community mental health service. While the clinical workers offer you a lot of empathy most of the time, it’s not the same as making you feel human. Because you’re not feeling human, you’re not feeling in your body. So having someone remind you would be nice.

Alexandra has since been able to reflect on and consider how her mental health issues were related to family violence and trauma. At the time, she did not discuss these issues with her psychologist and thinks she may have opened up more in a non‑clinical relationship.

I think that maybe if I had a support worker or someone to just check in with on a casual basis, I’d have been able to form the type of rapport that I needed, rather than a clinical rapport with someone.

Alexandra has also felt more comfortable talking with people on telephone helplines, compared with contacting clinical triage services.

With the community model, it feels more comfortable, it feels like there’s a better understanding of the spectrum of mental health and that you can have a more honest relationship.

Alexandra hopes that the future mental health system will include more access and options for people to use community services.

I think one of the big benefits to community mental health services as compared to clinical care services is the fact that most people in any challenging situation need a wraparound service, not just to cover one sole thing.

Alexandra says being able to refer people to other social and community options is an important feature of community services, and they apply the ‘no wrong door policy’.

One of the things that frustrates me so much about some services out there is that you might not be eligible, because you tick too many boxes. People try and handball situations when really you just need an all‑round approach. I just don’t think you can have that without having community mental health services. I’ve never seen any other services be able to do it.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with Alexandra Sutherland, November 2020.