By Danielle Kutchel
They came in pairs, in small groups and on their own, but it wasn’t long before The Castle’s space was filled up with people longing to be heard.
They had gathered to share their thoughts on the shape of Australia’s mental health system and what could be done to improve it, in a town-hall style meeting facilitated by Christine Morgan, who was appointed to the role of Australia’s first national suicide prevention advisor in July.
Since then, Ms Morgan has been touring the country and meeting with the community in various parts of Australia to gather their input before she reports to the government on how to reach its ambitious aim of zero suicides.
Dandenong was the second-last stop on the tour, chosen in part for its culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) population.
Ms Morgan had previously told the Dandenong Journal that some multicultural communities face additional barriers to mental health support, from cultural mores and understandings of mental illness to gender and age divides, past trauma, resettlement in a new country and even a lack of language to cover the vast topic of mental health.
On the night, guests shared harrowing stories of stigma and mistreatment, and a reluctance to admit their mental health struggles to professionals out of fear of the consequences.
Others vented their frustration at what they see as inadequate services and skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs for people experiencing mental health challenges, which created barriers to effective treatment.
Some suggested making mental health information more culturally aware and building resilience into school curriculums through wellbeing programs and strategies, and others wanted to see person-centred funding.
All agreed that the stigma around mental health needs to be removed.
Ms Morgan and her team gathered feedback via a mobile phone app and handwritten notes, promising to collate this with the information they had learned at their other stops on the tour.
Vern, a Pakenham resident who attended on behalf of his sons who he said have a “range of mental health issues”, is hopeful that this time, there will be a positive outcome from the process.
“Christine Morgan seems to have a good sense of it, and she is saying all the right things, but the question is whether anything happens at the government level because often it goes to the minister and sometimes they get it, and sometimes they don’t. Something may happen, or it may not,” he said.
Ms Morgan said she was pleased with the responses from guests on the night.
“I felt there was so much honesty in the room, people really brought themselves and their experiences and thoughts into the room, they were prepared to share the negatives but they came up with some great ideas as to what would work to change the system,” she said.
Ms Morgan expects to consult with the Federal Health Minister by Christmas this year, with a full report and recommendations due in 2020.