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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:


Kit lives in Melbourne but grew up in regional Victoria. They have experienced long‑term mental health issues and dependence on methamphetamines. Kit said they were heavily dependent on drugs and not interested in engaging in treatment until they became homeless and had to find crisis accommodation. It was then that Kit started engaging with a non‑residential withdrawal service. Kit said this service was very empathetic and helpful and assisted with a care plan.

The withdrawal service worked with Kit to get a psychological assessment, which recommended that a residential rehabilitation service would provide Kit with the extra support they needed to recover. Kit went to information sessions and found out about several different service options. During the process of referral and interviews with services, Kit recalls being told by an alcohol and other drug residential rehabilitation service not to disclose their history of mental illness, including previous admissions to mental health inpatient units.

I’d been told to do that by counsellors, like, ‘Do you really need to put that down? Because if you don’t, it’ll be easier for you to access treatment’. Essentially, because of my mental health, they believed that was going to be an impediment to access the service.

Kit was upfront during the interviews about their mental health issues and was subsequently referred for a psychiatric assessment, which recommended ‘dual diagnosis’ residential rehabilitation.

I also felt that it would be the best option, but it meant that other rehabilitation services effectively turned me down.

There are a limited numbers of residential rehabilitation beds in Victoria that can treat people for both mental health issues and problems with substance use. After waiting about six months, Kit entered and completed a three‑month ‘dual diagnosis’ residential rehabilitation program, which was able to treat both their mental health and substance use issues.

This was the turning point for me, the beginning of my current life.

I was also very sad to leave [my crisis accommodation]—the night before and the morning that I left I remember crying. I became very attached; it was a place I identified as saving my life. In the end I loved [the rehabilitation program] and cried a lot when I left there three months later. I experienced quite radical change in that time, and learnt that I had the capacity to change.

Kit explained what was different about the care provided in the residential rehabilitation service compared with other services and what had a positive impact for them.

The nurse‑to‑patient ratio there was much better, with a high level of support, and there was a large multidisciplinary team. There was a real community feeling in the environment. I think the fact that it was built that way from the beginning made it really cool too. At no point did I feel like I was on a ward. It’s a separate building to the hospital.

This program offered Kit their first regular contact with a psychiatrist. Before this, they had not had regular mental health treatment because they had not been considered eligible to access services like an adult mental health service. The psychiatrist also had a specialisation in addiction, which Kit said was very therapeutic in assisting their recovery in both mental health and substance use issues. The psychiatrist continued to provide treatment, care and support after discharge from the rehabilitation program.

It was a pure fluke that I was able to continue to see this same psychiatrist after the rehabilitation, and I think this is something that should be embedded in the system.

Leaving a residential rehabilitation program can be a difficult transition, and this was particularly challenging for Kit. Having support as well as having stable housing after their discharge was really important.

I’ve got a reasonably good support structure and a reasonably good routine. I’m living in transitional housing independently, with some support.

Source: Kit, Correspondence to the RCVMHS, 2020.