Mr Bell to move – That this House –
(a) recognises the valuable service that The Junction, Mount Gambier provides to people who are suffering from mental illness in the Limestone Coast region;
(b) acknowledges the volunteers who run programs that are provided at The Junction; and
(c) calls on the State Government to provide funding to The Junction to enable them to expand the services currently provided by them to include a wider cross section of the community.
Mental health and wellbeing is an issue affecting every single South Australian.
The South Australian Mental Health Strategic Plan states 45 per cent of South Australians will experience a diagnosable mental illness at some time in their life.
And the remaining 55 per cent are likely in some way to have to care for, or be impacted by those who do.
We all know people in our lives affected by mental illness, whether it be a family member or a fellow employee, whether it be a short-term or ongoing condition.
To those in treatment and recovery mode, support services are absolutely crucial to getting back on your feet.
Today, I want to highlight the good work of a volunteer-run organisation which is filling a significant gap in the Limestone Coast region’s services.
This organisation is The Junction, with centres in both Mount Gambier and Millicent.
The idea for The Junction began back in 2008, through a group of mental health organisations and individuals who recognised a need in the community for those people past the acute stage of their mental illness, but still needing assistance and support.
The Junction was designed to fulfil this need, becoming an activity and learning centre and providing ongoing services and programs to those people.
The word ‘ongoing’ is the key word here, as many services end after diagnosis or a defined period of time or treatment.
For some people, the ongoing effects of mental illness can affect their lives for years or decades.
The Junction provides that steady crutch, that ongoing support to get you back on your feet.
Their activities are designed to give people the chance to work on social inclusion, coping skills and healthy relationships – all those little things key to getting back to yourself.
These include cooking, healthy living and exercise classes, peri-natal and positive psychology sessions.
They also run something which they call the ‘mental health first aid kit course’ for local companies, educating people about the various conditions, teaching them how to recognise the warning signs, the right time to ask for help.
During the last few years, more than 2,000 people have gone through this course.
Everyone here would have heard of the saying ‘ripple effect’, where one event, situation or person can have a flow-on effect to others around them.
Each of these people take these valuable skills back into the wider community, getting the message out to friends, family, their workplaces.
During the last ten years, The Junction has had an overwhelmingly positive ripple effect on the Limestone Coast community.
This year, The Junction are about to commemorate a major milestone – ten years of operation.
But maybe what they should be celebrating is ten years of survival.
The centre survives on a shoestring budget, consisting of grants, donations from local organisations and proceeds from charity events.
The main driver behind The Junction’s continued existence is Nel Jans, who I’ve known for more than ten years.
Nel is a strong-willed, very dedicated lady who is incredibly passionate about mental health.
In her homeland of The Netherlands, Nel was a mental health nurse, social worker and a homeopath so she brings a wealth of knowledge and skills to her role.
When the centre began ten years ago, Nel’s position was funded by Country Health SA.
At the time, there were six other Junction centres around regional SA.
In 2012, the funding for the coordinator position was withdrawn and three of those centres were forced to close.
But Nel made the decision to continue on as a volunteer because she didn’t want the centre to close, or to leave her clients without the support they needed.
Throughout the years, the highs and lows of The Junction have continued.
In 2015, they lost the services of a qualified support worker and now depend on their base of 25 volunteers.
Many of these volunteers have ‘lived experience’, which is so important when it comes to supporting others.
You need someone to walk with you on your journey, to understand what living with a mental condition is actually like.
But again, I’ll argue that a centre which is filling such an important gap in our region’s mental health services should not have to depend on volunteers alone.
As other local organisations have folded in recent years, like the Anxiety Disorders Association of South East, The Junction have tried to fill the gaps left.
It also performs as an umbrella organisation for other mental health initiatives, including a new program called Lifeboat and the Limestone Coast Community Meditation Group.
At the moment, Nel admits that most of her time is taken up with grant applications, a job she struggles with because English is her second language.
Nel is nearing retirement and she is particularly worried about the future of The Junction if she goes.
Like many volunteer-run organisations, they need a succession plan but they are hampered by the fact that there is no money to attract the right person to that role.
Experienced mental health workers are very difficult to find and keep in the regions – scoping the job section of any major newspaper or website will tell you that.
But asking a qualified and experienced mental health worker to give 25-30 hours work a week for no pay – who would take that on?
We’re very lucky to have someone dedicated like Nel Jans in Mount Gambier but it’s unfair and unreasonable to expect that this situation will continue.
Nel admits the funding situation is so stressful, it’s beginning to impact on her own mental health.
And who looks after those mental health workers when they need help?
I mentioned the word ‘ongoing’ before and I’ll mention it again now.
The Junction deserves ongoing State Government assistance.
$150,000 a year would allow The Junction to pay their coordinator a wage, expand their services and opening hours and alleviate some of the pressure.
Currently, The Junction is only able to be open for two days a week.
If this organisation had been funded over the last ten years, possibly thousands of people may have been able to access assistance, help and ongoing support at a time when they need it.
We don’t want these people to slip through the cracks.
There is a testimonial on The Junction website that really sums up the ethos of this organisation, which I’ll read to you now.
“All I can say is that I’m blown away by such an organisation that is run by volunteers. I wish I had known about this group years ago when I was at my lowest, suffering extreme anxiety and depression.”
I’d like to leave you with a story of Bronnie Liebhardt – one of The Junction’s leading volunteers.
Bronnie has dealt with anxiety, manic depression and bipolar for decades and was once unable to leave her own house.
In 2009, she was told about The Junction and started to get involved in the group activities and sessions.
A few years later, she became a peer support worker.
Now, she’s the one runs the group sessions and gets to watch others take their steps towards recovery.
As her confidence has grown, she has also taken on most important roles, such as the Treasurer and relief coordinator when Nel is away.
Bronnie has described The Junction as ‘a place of healing’ for her and the other participants, a place that gives her purpose.
Bronnie is the perfect example of what an organisation like The Junction can achieve.
Just imagine what they could achieve with funding and support from this State Government.