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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Sandy Jeffs OAM

Sandy Jeffs OAM

Sandy Jeffs is an author and poet and has been an advocate in the mental health system for many years. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1976 and was in and out of Larundel psychiatric hospital during the 1970s and 1980s, with her last admission in 1991. Larundel closed in the 1990s.

Sandy reflected on the therapeutic benefits of Larundel compared with today’s mental health system, and the care she received from the staff.

At Larundel, I had time and space in which to form a therapeutic alliance with nurses. I had some great nursing at Larundel because their whole working notion was to get out into the wards and spend time with the patients—which is what happened.

Sandy authored the book Out of the Madhouse: From Asylums to Caring Community? with Margaret Leggatt, describing the experiences of Larundel, which recently won the Oral History Award (2020) from the Victorian Community History Awards. She discussed the notion of ‘asylum’ and the need to have space to recover.

At Larundel, you had time and space to get better, gardens to wander around in, and at least a languid time in which to find yourself. When you’re in these situations, your mind is fractured, and you need to somehow get it together again, and you need peace and quiet in which to do it, not a place to be harassed. Asylum has gone—there’s not a shred of it now.

Sandy also describes the need for people with mental health issues to have stable accommodation along with support.

What we addressed in the book is the importance of affordable supported accommodation; a place to call home is the missing link in the mental health system. Where people are offered clinical support for their mental illness and social support to help them stay in the accommodation.

Sandy discussed the challenges for people with a mental illness to have recovery and healing in the current system.

Hospitalisation should be a last resort—we should keep people out of hospital by keeping them well. But if people are hospitalised, they shouldn’t be discharged still unwell to the street or to stressed carers.

Sandy advocates that people should have access to psychosocial rehabilitation and with a sense of belonging.

a chance to have decency in life where we feel wanted, respected and valued.

Sandy was given the Order of Australia Medal in 2020 for her service to mental health organisations such as SANE Australia, of which she is a peer ambassador.

Source: Witness Statement of Sandy Jeffs, 5 July 2020.