One in five Australians will have a mental illness during their lives. The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia produced a DVD to help Vincentians and members of the public gain a better understanding of the issues associated with mental illness. In this introductory episode, three experts explain how the Society started and how its members continue to reaches out to those in need.
NARRATOR: In Australia today there is a mental health crisis.
DR BOB SERICH (Chair, National Mental Health and Homelessness Advisory Committee): In the last 20 or 30 years the incident of people suffering from mental illness living in the community has increased considerably.
GREG HOGAN (Coordinator Ozanam Institute of Spirituality): Mental illness is an illness; it’s an illness like anything else. We seem to be able to support and help and refer people with just about any other illness, but when it comes to mental illness it seems to become a ‘hands off’ attitude.
DR SERICH: Mental illness sits at number three on the chart just below cardiovascular disease and cancer.
MYREE HARRIS RSJ (President, NSW State Advisory Committee on Mental Health): Grossly underfunded and under resourced, very little that really helps people in the community adequately in anyway, and very little collaboration between government and non government organisations.
GREG HOGAN: If we are to be faithful to the spirit of the Society, then we need to be fair dinkum about helping to relieve these forms of poverty.
MYREE HARRIS: Because they are the poorest of the poor. I thought our job was to respond to the needs of the poor, you can’t go any poorer than that in many ways. They’re not just poor materially, their poor in their isolation, in their loneliness and their ostracism by society.
GREG HOGAN: The Society started in 1833 with Frederic Ozanam and a group of his university mates, who got together and decided they would do something specific to help the poor of Paris at the time. And after consulting with Sister Rosaline Rendu, the first act of the Society was taking a bunch of fire wood to a poor man who had no fire wood and was cold in Paris in winter. And thus was born the tradition of home visitation. And interestingly Ozanam himself and our new Rule (The Rule is a Society publication written for Society members to articulate the Vincentian vision) states that the giving of time and talents can be much better or more important than the giving of money.
MYREE HARRIS: I think the Society can be absolutely vital in the ongoing community support for people with mental illness. Medical professionals might not see people all that regularly, even case workers can have a case load of 60 people.
DR SERICH: To my knowledge, Vincentians are the only people, the only organisation that go out and actually visit people in their homes to offer friendship, companionship and assistance.
MYREE HARRIS: If Vincentians are on the scene their meeting people, they’re encountering people they may be appealed to when people are feeling in crisis. They may be the first line of call, they may be the one who can alert the health professional and allow a situation to be dealt with before it turns into an emergency.
GREG HOGAN: The new Rule tells us that we should be creative and adaptive in attacking and trying to relieve new forms of poverty. It’s essential if we are to live the spirit of the new Rule to tackle some of these problems head on. We can’t just pick and choose what sort of poverty we are going to look after, we can’t pick and choose what sorts of poverty we’re going to relieve. It’s obvious that social isolation and mental illness are true issues of mental illness today.
MYREE HARRIS: I think one of the challenges for Vincentians is not just to drop off the food parcels which we’ve done in the past and in many cases may still be needed, but we have to be willing to relate to these people – to people with mental illness – with a friendship.
GREG HOGAN: And our members are saying that they become more and more aware of visiting people in their home that are suffering from mental illness.
NARRATOR: Mental illness is very common in all levels of society even many famous and brilliant people have suffered with it over the centuries and there is no real reason to be afraid.
GREG HOGAN: We’re going to be afraid of anything we don’t know. Ozanam, our founder, when he dropped the wood at the poor man’s door he turned and ran. He didn’t wait till the door opened, he was afraid of what sort of reaction he might get from the person he was delivering the wood to.
MYREE HARRIS: It’s the fear factor. It’s the unknown.
GREG HOGAN: Some of us may be afraid if we’ve had no experience of working with people with mental illness.
MYREE HARRIS: One of the problems and most people wouldn’t understand, is that a lot of the strange behaviours of people with mental illness are not due to the illness at all, they’re due to the medications, particularly the old medications.
DR SERICH: There are less episodes of violence with mental patients than there is with the general population.
MYREE HARRIS: But I think the fear factor means people are often unwilling to even try to relate to people with mental illness. They’re frightened. They’re frightened of violence. There’s this stereotype that people with mental illness will attack you. People with mental illness often are more shy and frightened and they’re the ones likely to run away, rather than the people dealing with them.
GREG HOGAN: If we’re still having difficulties then look for other resources within the Society…there will be training resources available around mental illness, there will be training resources to help us overcome our fear. Our fears there because we don’t know, understand something. We don’t know something. The more we understand it the more we know it the less we will be fearful of it.
The DVD should provide a very good basis for people to start understanding and gaining knowledge about the issues about mental illness and to help them to be equipped and able to visit people with mental illness.
DR SERICH: We’re not therapists, we’re just there to be thermometers for the degree of distress.
GREG HOGAN: What we want to do is provide enough information so that we are able to deal with reasonably normal situations in our life.
NARRATOR: This DVD will provide Society members with an understanding of the issues surrounding mental illness and enable your Vincentian work to be more meaningful and effective.