Vincentians recognise that social isolation and a lack of friendship is a certain type of poverty. Social isolation is common place among people suffering a mental illness but it doesn’t have to be that way.
PETER SCHAECKEN (Consumer consultant, Sydney South West Area, Mental Health Service, Eastern Zone): First of all family and friendships are very important for people with mental illness. There are many people with a serious mental illness who may not have any friends or few friends. In Australia unfortunately many people with mental illness have experienced what’s called social isolation as a result of people’s fears and fears about mental illness. So their excluded from society because of peoples misperceptions about what mental illness is.
LYNNE (Living with mental illness): So to have friends and family members that believe you and know that it is because of your illness that your acting in a certain way, I think is the most important thing before medication, before seeing a physiatrist, before seeing any health professional.
DR BOB SERICH (Chair, National Mental Health and Homelessness Advisory Committee): All you’re doing is going out there and being prepared to chat enough to someone chatting to be able to see whether there’s a problem that needs some sort of further help and this can only be done if somebody’s actually prepared to engage.
PROFESSOR GORDON PARKER (Executive Director at The Black Dog Institute): The difficulty is that some people need it and will appreciate it but there’s another group of people with mental illness, particularly when people get depressed. Because part of the nature of depression is to withdraw from the world, withdraw from your family, withdraw from your friends, to not answer the phone, to go to your bedroom. And these people will still appreciate it, but will be harder to engage. But when they come out of the episode they will remember the person who visited the person who said the right word at the right time.
JOHN KONRADS (Former Olympic swimmer): Some depressives just do want to be by themselves, but even then that’s often a dangerous way to be for a long time. By visiting them, by even just sitting silently next to them watching TV or not watching TV, it gives them a feeling that their not alone. Because when you’re feeling down you think you’re the only person in the world feeling down. And they forget about Winston Churchill, and they forget about the sports stars like myself and others, they forget about the politicians who have had to resign, or they didn’t notice that in the first place. They think that they’re the only person in the world.
PROFESSOR GORDON PARKER: I heard a person at a book launch the other day give a tribute to his wife, and he said “When I go into the depression she just says very gently, it will pass, it will pass”. I think this is a wonderful story because it’s a comment that shows her empathy, but also captures his memory of how she is so supportive and understanding.
LYNNE: I’m just fortunate that when I have been in those spaces I’ve had people either who have helped me get to hospital, or who have been there to tell me that things are going to be ok, that I will get through it and I’ve been there before. And even though I can’t see at that time that it’s going to be okay they can reassure me that they know they’ve seen me get through it before and that’s so, so important to have that support to get through it.
DR SERICH: The role of the Vincentians is actually to be a substitute family member, a caring person who goes around. And as I said they’re not therapists but they are sensitive and they will be sensitive with training to the needs of these people and have the capacity to alert the appropriate carers and authorities, meaning the mental health service or the GP or whoever may be the prime carer in the community of some change in mental state.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ (President, NSW State Advisory Committee on Mental Health): And a response that shows that we welcome them into our society, that we’re not frightened of them. We don’t have to form long term intimate friendships with them necessarily, but we have to provide a friendly face, a friendly voice, a response that recognises their dignity and welcomes them into our shops, our centres. And in our visitation that treats them like human beings.
DR SERICH: To be a companion, to be a friend
LYNNE: To have the support of other people that know what it’s like to have a mental illness.
DR SERICH: To try to assist in areas that they can assist in, not promise things that they can’t do.
JOHN O’NEIL (President, State Council St Vincent de Paul Society NSW/ACT): Lack of friendship is poverty, so friendship is essential to get in touch with these people to build trust with them and build relationships.
DR SERICH: And this is where Vincentians come in. They’re the only link to these poor unfortunate because they belong to a reparable organisation who are trustworthy go around and try to do the best they can.
JOHN CAMPBELL (President, State Council St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland): There’s not a great deal of assistance for a lot of these people out in the bush. We’d probably be the only charity in a lot of these places where people can come and a lot of the time they only want to talk. They may want to get a feed or something like that, they may want some food, but underlying it all is the probably need to talk to someone who sympathetic and that is what our Vincentians are. In the main their all very sympathetic and they’re there to help a person; that’s our role.
PETER SCHAECKEN: Some of the services people might need, might be home care, meals on wheels, access to GPs or a regular GP preferably, access to leisure activities, access to low cost social opportunities.
GREG HOGAN (Coordinator Ozanam Institute of Spirituality): It could be an interest in a hobby. It could be sitting with someone who might want to do some sewing. It could be an interest in sport and sharing our knowledge and our reading of sport with someone else, it’s just about developing that relationship that becomes a two way thing, and it becomes a friendship.