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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Tamara Lovett

Tamara Lovett is a Gunai and Gunditjmara woman who has lived in Melbourne her whole life. She has experienced mental health challenges since she was young.

During her first pregnancy, Tamara established a good relationship with a GP, whom she felt she could be open and honest with. She asked for a referral to a psychiatrist as a way of protecting her mental health during her pregnancy, but she had a negative experience when she saw the psychiatrist at a hospital.

A lot of the time when I have tried to access help it is not culturally safe. Sometimes I can get help but it doesn’t fit. They automatically jump to a diagnosis. My mental health makes sense when you listen to my life story.

After her child was born, Tamara was facing homelessness due to a stressful living situation. She connected with Wadamba Wilam, a program that supports Aboriginal people who are experiencing homelessness and require support around their social and emotional wellbeing. She says that along with her GP, Wadamba Wilam has been her only source of help.

Wadamba [Wilam] works from a strengths based approach and were able to help me see things in a more positive light. They believed my journey and didn’t try and diagnose me or blame me for my past. My case workers listened and took my journey on board.

Tamara is not comfortable using mainstream services, as she believes that workers don’t understand or respond to her cultural needs.

They are just fixed on a diagnosis and also on medications, but that’s not the therapy I wanted. They are also limited on time, rushed and don’t listen. And you never see the same people, which means you have to keep re‑telling traumatic events over and over again.

Tamara has since worked at Wadamba Wilam as a lived experience case manager, and as an Aboriginal Mental Health Outreach Worker within community health services. In the future, Tamara would like to see more services that are culturally safe, and more funding for Aboriginal‑specific workers in clinical settings.

We need more Aboriginal people working in both mainstream and Aboriginal mental health services.

Source: Witness Statement of Tamara Lovett, 16 July 2019; Wadamba Wilam: Renew Shelter, [accessed 21 December 2020].