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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

William

William* is 79 years old and experiences depression and anxiety. He also has late‑onset vision impairment. William attributes his long‑term problems with alcohol as the most likely reason for his three suicide attempts.

After William’s first suicide attempt, he found the support limited. He explained he was referred to a mental health unit where he says he ‘sat in the waiting room for an hour and walked out when no one came out to see me’. After another attempt a few years ago, William’s GP referred him to his local aged persons mental health service.

As soon as the referral went through, the mental health nurse came and visited me at my house and we had a chat and made an appointment to see the psychiatrist and the other private psychologist that I see. I got a regular appointment at the clinic and I saw both the psychiatrist and mental health nurse there every three or four weeks.

Following the retirement of both the mental health nurse and psychiatrist at the service, William now sees a new mental health nurse. William understands the service is trying to replace the psychiatrist but because he lives in a regional area, he says he thinks this may be difficult. However, William feels positive about recent progress in his treatment with his private psychologist.

I’m working with my psychologist at present, where for the first time we’ve actually started talking about self‑esteem. I am now starting to realise that throughout my life my self‑esteem has never been great. I’m looking forward to keeping on working down that line.

William said his vision impairment has significantly affected his independence and his mental health. He feels it is important to hear experiences specific to your own, so you can see that other people are going through similar experiences.

I listened to a talk on this on the internet from an ophthalmologist and it was the best information I have ever been able to obtain for my particular mental health problem because it was someone talking about low vision and mental health.

It is helpful to hear other people were going through it and you’re not on your own. And not on your own because your eyesight’s failing, because you know you’re not on your own there, but knowing you’re not on your own when your eyesight is affecting your mental health.

Living in a regional area and no longer being able to drive makes accessing support services, particularly specialised support services, challenging for William.

When he sought mental health support specific to those with vision impairment from a vision support organisation, he was told it was only available in Melbourne or over the phone. William said he doesn’t feel comfortable speaking about his mental health over the phone and has therefore not been able to use the service. The COVID‑19 pandemic has also meant he has been unable to get support for the challenges he experiences with alcohol, which he hopes to do in the future.

William hopes sharing his story will help others. He feels strongly about the importance of education about mental health. He belongs to his local men’s shed and organises the guest speakers for monthly events, where he often focuses on mental health topics to raise awareness. William would like to see better education in the broader community for recognising mental health issues and seeking support.

We need to educate people and their families to know when they have got a mental health problem and when to go and seek help about it, rather than just sort of soldiering on and getting further and further into depression.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with ‘William’ (pseudonym), September 2020.

Note: *Name has been changed to protect privacy.