A few weeks ago Jaime and Sage visited people with a lived experience of mental health issues in the mid-North Coast to talk about their experience of the mental health system and what changes they would like to see.

A major issue for most people we spoke to was how they were treated by staff in hospitals. Although they said the atmosphere had become more friendly over time, there were still many instances where they were not treated with respect and their needs were dismissed. Sometimes this was because staff had heavy loads and were very busy. As a result, people felt like they were not a priority. Small changes in the way staff treat people can have a big impact on this important relationship and a person’s recovery. A successful mental health service must be built on foundations of respect and collaboration, rather than an unequal power dynamic

“I just feel like there have been a few times when I’ve been waiting for medication, or I needed a nurse, but they give you sign language like “go away, go away”. I’m obviously knocking on the door for a reason, at least come and say “I’ll be there in a second”.”

Another issue people identified was a breakdown in communication between staff. When a person’s doctor changed, their notes were not always handed over, which could delay treatment. This was frustrating for people who were trying to understand their situation and move forward on their recovery journey. People had to develop a high level of knowledge to navigate the system, for example knowing who to talk to and how to advocate for themselves.

“My doctor went on leave, so I got another doctor, and that was a second opinion, so it was like I lost all that progress I had with my first doctor. The first doctor said to me you’re going to be discharged within a week, then the new doctor came in, and she had to get to know me. I want to move things along quite quickly, but it doesn’t always happen like that. All the power is in their hands in terms of the stop/go button.”

One important subject for people was whether they had choice over their services. This included being able to change support workers when the relationship was not working. We talked about the urgent need for more services, particularly in regional areas, as several people had been turned away from services or had to wait a long time to be connected with them. Most people we talked to knew what changes they wanted in their lives and really appreciated when staff took the time to connect them with the services that could help them achieve their goals.

For people who have to spend time in a hospital, the surroundings can play a big part in how positive you feel every day. We talked about how having access to a nice garden is calming and gives people positive things to do. We also discussed how the internet plays an important part in connecting people with their communities. Most hospitals still do not provide wi-fi and may have one computer shared between many people. It’s time we brought our hospitals into the 21st century!

Thanks to everyone who took the time to talk with us. We will continue to advocate for mental health services that are healing environments, treat people with respect and recognise that a person’s experience and goals must drive their recovery.