CASE STUDY: Lack of services, long wait lists and no transport – our community deserves better
At Lachlan Matthews’ lowest point he struggled to drag himself out of bed each day and wanted to end his own life.
The 18-year-old has depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
He was sexually abused, bullied about his sexuality, nearly experienced homelessness and watched his parents’ marriage disintegrate before his eyes.
Lachlan needed professional help. Sadly, like many young people in Mitchell Shire going through similar experiences, getting that help was almost impossible.
“At my worst I couldn’t get up out of bed in the morning,” Lachlan said.
“I couldn’t function, I contemplated suicide most days and (although) I never actually attempted it, I just felt so isolated in my community.”
Lachlan said it was his mother, who has also suffered PTSD, who identified the warning signs in her son and made the first call for help.
But local help support services were hard to find.
“The closest place I could see a psychologist was in Mill Park, and the next closest was Sunbury,” Lachlan said.
“Only recently have I been able to see a psychologist in Kilmore, who is actually booked out more than a month and a half in advance.
“Because of this lack of access to local services and to qualified people, I really think I ended up in a worse position than I should have been.
“The lack of transport to these services was an issue, too. There was no public transport to get myself down there (to Mill Park). I had to rely on my family to take me and if my mum had work or my sisters were unavailable, I couldn’t get help.”
Lachlan said his experiences were not isolated.
“Just the other day I called a friend and her best friend had attempted suicide. She had tried asking for help, but the public waiting lists to see someone were so long,” he said.
“It’s one thing to go to a GP and get a bunch of free sessions with a psychologist, but you then have to book in and access one.
“You have to find one that you connect with and if you don’t like the one that’s here, there’s probably no one else, the closest one is probably an hour or an hour and a half away.”
Lachlan’s mental health issues started when he was a 9-year-old and were largely triggered by the sexual assault, domestic violence - the catalyst for his parents’ divorce - and relentless bullying at school about his sexuality.
“I felt isolated and that there was no one I could talk to. I felt like I couldn’t be myself,” he said.
“I had all these feelings going through my head. I thought I would never be accepted in society (for being gay) and there was something wrong with me.
“I thought my mother wouldn’t love me or care for me and all my sisters would hate me, which I know now was very wrong. They have actually been my biggest supporters but at that time, I never thought they would be able to accept me.”
According to The Bridge Youth Service Acting CEO Jenny Cook, Lachlan’s story is not unique.
“The maze of gaining support for young people struggling with their mental health is difficult and workers also find it challenging to refer them to relevant programs or professionals,” Ms Cook said.
“The waiting times can be lengthy and also the availability in rural areas is very limited.”
The Bridge Youth Service has seen a significant increase in the number of young people seeking support for complex issues such as depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, substance abuse, financial hardship, homelessness, family violence and poor general health.
Ms Cook said there were often also underlying issues that only become apparent once someone decided to seek help.
“When a young person presents it may be for one issue, but as they tell their story many others emerge and so their support is complex,” Ms Cook said.
Ms Cook said there were many barriers that prevented young people from getting the help they needed, and that local services were doing the best they could with limited resources.
“Barriers often are the judgement they may receive, the time or location of the service, the vicinity of the service to public transport, privacy and confidentiality and the actual intake process to see someone at a service may be lengthy,” Ms Cook said.
“Local services are stretched, young people require youth-specific services, this is optimal if they are to engage with programs or workers.
“I really believe that qualified youth workers as a profession are understated and that youth work is a specialty area that requires different skills and abilities than other mainstream services.”
With stories like Lachlan’s all too common, Mitchell Shire Council is advocating strongly ahead of the state election for better access to youth mental health services for our residents, among other things.
Council has developed a list of Advocacy Priorities, including calling for $300,000 each year for ongoing youth mental health services, as well as $100,000 to refurbish the old Wellington Street Kindergarten building in Wallan as a youth services hub, including counselling and support.
Mitchell Shire Mayor Rhonda Sanderson said for too long our community had been forgotten and it was time for access to vital services to be improved.
“I’d like to thank Lachlan for being so brave and sharing his story,” Cr Sanderson said.
“It’s really eye-opening to hear what some young people in our community are going through.
“We hope by sharing stories like this, it will hit home to funding bodies that these lack of services in Mitchell Shire are effecting real people.
“It’s not good enough that young people in our community, or any person in our community for that matter, are having to travel over and hour to get the support they need.”
While Lachlan was eventually able to get the help he needed, the outlook is not so bright for many others.
Lachlan’s advice to those going though similar experiences: “Things get better”.
“Life is like a rollercoaster, everything is up and down. When you think you’re at your worst, things can get better, or when you are at your best, things can get worse,” Lachlan, a member of the Mitchell Youth Council, said.
“Especially for kids, school is not the be all and end all of your life. Once you leave you’re going to make friends and you’ll find your life opens up. You’re not going to be trapped. Live each day as you want to live it and take each day as it comes.”
If you or someone you know aged 12-25 is seeking help for a mental health problem, contact headspace at www.headspace.org.au.
Other services such as LifeLine (13 11 14) and the Kids’ Helpline (1800 55 1800) are also available for immediate help.