Stories can be very healing, and many people benefit from getting the opportunity to pass on their experience to others. This can be especially powerful for people who do not always feel that they have the chance to help others. Resilience is strengthened by recognizing that we are all experts in our own lives, and we all have something to share with others.
It is not just the telling or writing it down but knowing that what you write will be read by others and the hope that by sharing in a public way, someone else might be inspired or helped by your story.
Another piece of this is starting to understand that words can have power—positive power—on others.
What is the difference between someone who has achieved resilience and someone who has not? One important difference is a sense of well-being. People who have found their voice, shared their story, and reaffirmed their values often find a sense of peace and a hopefulness that they did not have before.
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SabrinasReach4Life gives members of the public the opportunity to share their story to be heard, and give others an understanding of some of the challenges people with mental ill health and suicidal ideation experience in the NT. The views expressed are not SabrinasReach4Life views, however, we are a platform to support others with lived or living experience, who may also choose respectfully to remain anonymous and verified by SabrinasReach4Life.This page contains information that is intended for people that would like to have their voice heard in written word, to share their story.
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NT Mental Healthcare in Crisis
Content Warning: references to suicidal ideation
This World Mental Health Week, I am reticent to simply recommend people to seek help if they need it. Because my experience has been that in the Northern Territory, they are likely to not get it.
My name is *** and I live with complex mental health. For me that looks like multiple concurrent diagnoses and symptoms ranging from suicidal ideation and self-harm to dissociation, paranoia and occasionally hallucinations. My functional capacity fluctuates – I often am unable to work and look after myself, but then at times I am busy and social and successful in my work. I have had many inpatient admissions over the past few years, usually following a suicide attempt. These have mainly been in the Royal Darwin Hospital’s Cowdy Ward and Joan Ridley Unit, with some interstate.
I have had some positive experiences with the public mental health system. Most of the time, despite being challenging, my hospital admissions have been useful for keeping me safe. I have met and worked with some incredible, life-changing nurses. Interstate, where in my personal experience inpatient units have had far more wrap-around support, I have been supported in hospital by wonderful, allied health professionals such as occupational therapists, psychologists and peer support workers (for those who don’t know, these are people with lived or living experience of mental ill-health who bring their lived experience to a social and emotional support role). But not all recovery from mental health crises can or should occur within an acute hospital setting. This is where the Northern Territory falls down.
Outside of an acute hospital setting I have had great difficulty getting support for my mental health here in the Territory. There is a service connected to the Top End Mental Health Service (TEMHS) known as the Mental Health Access Team (MHAT). It is quite unclear from the government website what exactly their role is, but my understanding is they are the go-to for crisis support in the NT, which you reach by calling the NT Mental Health Line (1800 682 288). I have called MHAT myself and have had them called on me by concerned friends, clinicians and support workers. I do not call them lightly – it has always been when I am in severe distress and suicidal crisis. For whatever reason I have been repeatedly shafted, leaving me feeling completely abandoned by what is meant to be the go-to support in times of crisis. I have also been repeatedly refused support by the Tamarind Centre (which is honestly even more of a mystery what exactly they do, but my understanding is they case manage certain mental health consumers for whom they provide outpatient psychiatry services). I can only guess the reasons for what my psychologist has named as the TEMHS’s negligence and lack of duty of care - likely lack of funding and resources, possibly high turnover of staff, potentially deciding I don’t meet their very unclear access requirements, or what I hope to not be true but has been suggested to me by others in the sector – a refusal to work with consumers who hold certain diagnoses, which would be very unfair and discriminatory. The private system – particularly the Darwin Clinic, part of Darwin Private Hospital – has refused to offer me any outpatient or inpatient care as they have deemed that I am ‘too high-needs’ and should be case managed by the public system. I guess you could say I am in what the mental health biz calls ‘the missing middle’ – which Orygen, the Victorian youth mental health organization defines as ‘people whose needs are not met by current mental health services…they are often too unwell for primary care, but not unwell enough for state-based services.’ (https://www.orygen.org.au/Orygen-Institute/Policy-Areas/Government-policy-service-delivery-and-workforce/Service-delivery/Defining-the-missing-middle/orygen-defining-the-missing-middle-pdf?ext=)
What should acute public mental healthcare look like here? For me, it is community care in addition to hospital supports. At one point when I was living down south, I was in crisis, but myself and the public mental health service in my local area agreed that we would try and avoid hospitalisation if possible. I was being contacted by a clinician regularly to check-in, and at certain points was seeing a psychiatrist or allied health professional in person daily. This service – run by the brief intervention community team – was connected to a hospital, and after one particular home visit they were able to get me straight to a mental health inpatient unit, bypassing the need to take up space in a busy (and often traumatising) emergency department.
When looking for solutions from sympathetic voices within the sector the most common advice I have been given has been to move interstate (the old ‘if you’re in pain, get on a plane’ anecdote that goes around in the NT). But the Northern Territory is my home, and I think it is important to demand better, especially on behalf of those who due to finances, support networks, family, culture and various other reasons, relocating to receive adequate health care is not an option. The Northern Territory has the highest rate of suicide of any jurisdiction, yet the NT’s mental health system is ignoring those who are asking for help when in suicidal crisis. One doesn’t have to look far to see examples of when this has ended in tragedy – such as 19-year-old Sabrina Di Lembo who died from suicide in 2017 despite her and her family’s multiple attempts at getting support from TEMHS.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Despite everything, I am inherently an optimist who looks for the good wherever I can. Darwin’s new ‘Head to Health’ service provides an extended hours drop-in service for those experiencing mental health challenges and is a much nicer environment than the emergency department when in crisis. I can only hope that services like these are expanded and considered in other areas of the Northern Territory in the future, as mental health support is needed for all Territorians, not just those in urban Darwin.
I have just read Sabrina's story and although I am a lot older than Sabrina was, I and many others can and will relate closely to her story. Thank you for sharing this page and I wish you a world of success with the jewelry line.
M F 🌻