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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:


Ruth* is a peer researcher and consumer advocate living in Melbourne. Ruth grew up in a regional city in Victoria and is now in their mid‑20s.

Ruth first experienced severe anxiety and depression at around 16 years old. At 19, they were diagnosed with an eating disorder, borderline personality disorder and were experiencing complex trauma. Ruth has a psychosocial disability and has been receiving support via the National Disability Insurance Scheme. On many occasions, however, Ruth has felt dismissed by mental health services as not meeting the eligibility criteria and has been declined mental health services in times of crisis.

Services would say ‘you’re not early intervention, we can’t help you’, or ‘you’re not complex enough’. A lot of [Crisis Assessment and Treatment] teams just won’t help me at all. And I’ve had a lot of hospital admissions, where they don’t support me at all, and then just discharge me, only to still be in crisis.

Ruth has had some good experiences with services, for example at a Youth Prevention and Recovery Centre (YPARC) and the 12 months they spent at a youth residential rehabilitation program in Melbourne.

Ruth has felt discriminated against many times because of their mental health, including from people close to them, the media, and also from hospitals and mental health services. When Ruth was in the first semester of a course at a TAFE, it declined their requests for flexible learning options.

I was in hospital for my mental health and was missing a lot of class and so I had to get special consideration, but they weren’t really able to do much to help me. They’re kind of like, oh well, you need to do this, it’s a ‘hurdle assessment’, you need to do this assessment to continue the course. And they just weren’t at all flexible. So I had to drop out of that course.

Due to the nature of Ruth’s disability, it was difficult for them to complete practical assessments. However, Ruth said that the TAFE refused to reschedule, despite knowing about their disability. Ruth tried to negotiate flexible learning options and requested disability support through the student support services; however, they felt the TAFE lacked compassion or understanding about disability or mental health.

So now I just feel like there is too much trauma associated with it to go back. I don’t feel like I could handle a TAFE course, because of where I’m at, and because of what TAFE was like with supporting people like me.

Ruth did not finish the first semester of TAFE, and has tried to complete other education courses, including at university. Ruth describes being impacted so greatly by their experience at TAFE, that they have not subsequently been able to complete any tertiary education or certificates. As Ruth said, ‘I dropped out of university another two times because of my mental health.’ This has had a negative impact on Ruth’s confidence and their mental health has deteriorated.

Ruth struggled to secure any full‑time or ongoing employment, and was limited to casual work arrangements, a few hours a week, while remaining on the disability support pension. More recently, Ruth has gained additional casual work as a peer researcher and consumer representative. Ruth hopes for a future mental health system that is more responsive and caring for people experiencing psychological distress, particularly when in crisis.

I’m really passionate about ensuring safe and effective mental health care, and I’m starting to work in the lived experience workforce, and I’m really excited and passionate about that.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with ‘Ruth’ (pseudonym), November 2020.

Note: *Name has been changed to protect privacy.