So we in Tasmania have the highest incidence of residential care needs in the country and the main cause is mental health issues with schizophrenia being the prime factor. But unfortunately, the number of suitable care units is drastically less than is needed. By and large when sufferers have an ‘episode’ be it depression, bi-polar, psychotic episodes etc., hospital or supported care facilities are the next stop of call, given that the family and carers have already exhausted all other avenues and usually themselves in the process.
Furthermore, what are these facilities offering? Well, they are offering security, safety, rehab, respite, all the things we would need, but, significantly, they do not offer what Professor Allan Fels (AO), Chairman of The Haven Foundation, thinks is their entitlement – their own long-term home rather than temporary accommodation.
‘Accommodation is a fundamental need for people with a mental illness as for the rest of the community. Without adequate and safe accommodation, effective treatment and rehabilitation strategies cannot be implemented (Burdekin et al. 1993; Shepherd et al. 1996; 1997). Thus, it is essential that accommodation is considered a priority when addressing the needs of people with a mental illness’.
They then go on to say that what sufferers of mental illness most want in their housing is:
- to live alone;
- to live in a home with low behavioural demands (residence should be a home, not a treatment facility); and
- to make daily decisions themselves rather than by the staff.
Study after study tells us that sufferers of schizophrenia in particular, feel more empowered and have a better chance of recovery and integration into society when they have a ‘place of their own’ and are in a position to make decisions about their own care.
In the past, the model we have been used to is hospitalization, temporary accommodation, crisis accommodation often in differing environments; situations which you or I would term unstable, unpredictable and often not conducive to recovery. Also, thankfully in the past, persons suffering severe and persistent mental illness were usually funnelled into the health system via hospital wards specially set up to deal with mental illness. Whilst there is still a place at times for this model in society, it is now recognized as more appropriate to engage in a more inclusive model that involves family, carers, health specialists and importantly the consumers themselves.
Melbourne’s “Haven” project seems to offer hope by demonstrating promising outcomes. This project has been set up specifically to offer to those dealing with mental health issues all the things required, needed and, they are entitled to. The Haven Foundation in South Yarra sets out the following goals:
We aim to provide socially and financially disadvantaged individuals living with mental illness, the opportunity to access housing which provides normality and stability; and offer a sense of permanency in housing and daily living support, which is not provisional upon involvement in any other support.