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Northern suburbs need more mental health services for young people

Industry professionals and youth are highlighting the lack of affordable mental health treatment options available in one of the most socio-economically disadvantaged areas of Adelaide.

Since late 2019, Elisa has completed 78 free therapy sessions with Emerging Youth Mental Health Support.

At the time Eliza asked for help, she was a resident of the northern suburbs. She believes that if her therapy sessions weren’t free, or if she could only attend 20 free sessions, according to a federally backed mental health treatment plan, she wouldn’t receive the appropriate treatment for anorexia nervosa.

“I will never be able to afford these many sessions,” says Elisa* City Mag.

“She didn’t have that time either, the countdown factor for that, which I know would have totally impaired my ability to properly engage. I would probably have given up a lot sooner. The fact that this is an ongoing service for my needs, I am very grateful to her.”

In mid-2019, Elisa says her GP initially suggested she participate in the Flinders University Eating Disorder Services Program, which consists of 10 free cognitive behavioral therapy sessions rooted in evidence-based therapy.

While the program was attractive, the journey was too stressful for the 20-year-old who lived across town.

Elisa eventually finds help through a free career counseling service for 16-25-year-olds with mental health issues, but she knows that other people of her age and income bracket from northern suburbs are missing out on adequate help.

“What I’ve heard from many of my friends who are seeking support is that everyone has booked an appointment and that they might have an appointment with a therapist once every two months, and it costs a few hundred dollars,” Elisa says.

“It’s the environment. There isn’t much of that healthcare [service] What you see compared to when you’re driving around Norwood or whatever. It doesn’t seem to exist [here]. “

Elisa isn’t alone in acknowledging the demand for adequate mental health services north of the 5000 zip code.

Josh Sticky is the medical team leader at Sonder, the nonprofit mental health support agency that provides its services.

To qualify for the Sonder Exit Program, a participant must have one of the following mental health issues: severe anxiety, major depression, borderline personality disorder, eating disorder, psychosis, trauma or bipolar disorder. They must also reside in the northern or southern suburbs of the metropolitan city of Adelaide. Josh says 380 people gained access to Sonder’s services in the past year.

Adelaide’s northern suburbs have also recorded historical levels of social and economic deprivation.

According to the most recently published Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data from 2016, suburbs such as Enfield, Parafield Gardens and Burton have the highest levels of social deprivation.

The ABS system defines social and economic advantage as people’s access to material and social resources and their ability to participate in society. The analysis compared a range of different census variables, such as income, education, employment, occupation, and housing characteristics to distinguish the level of advantage.

“It’s a challenge we’ve noticed here, [where] “The services and financing we have do not quite match the need that exists in the community,” says Josh of Sonder’s Edinburgh North office. (This suburb is not rated in the ABS data, but all surrounding areas are “red,” indicating a major drawback.)

“There aren’t many private practitioners in the north, which makes it even more difficult to compare, for example, to the eastern suburbs of Adelaide.”

Adelaide’s eastern suburbs, such as Toorak Gardens, Heathpool and Tusmore, had the lowest levels of socioeconomic deprivation in the ABS data.

Jessica Johnson is the team leader at Borouge and says “one of the biggest challenges” is the lack of free mental health services in the area.

“We’re co-location with headspace in North Edinburgh, so they’ve been funded again by this mental health network, and we’re really targeting this moderate to moderate mental health interest in young adults,” says Jessica.

“We have a CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Service) in Elizabeth City Center… which works with the 0-18 age group.

“And then we have community mental health services for young people with severe and complex chronic mental health problems — over 18.

“But apart from that, in terms of psychotherapy, which is what we’re really focusing on here, between headspace and popping, there’s not really much there.”

Jessica and Josh at Sonder HQ. This photo: Angela Scoggins

Jessica says that challenges such as homelessness, domestic violence and a lack of an ongoing relationship with a GP may stand in the way of a young person getting support.

Another issue is the lack of continuity between health care providers. Jessica says this has an impact on the young person who switches between a GP and a specialist, or is languishing in a waiting list after receiving a referral.

The multi-agency initiative for youth, led by Sonder, is a joint partnership that aims to accelerate and simplify support for young people accessing mental health treatment.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a mental health solution,” Jessica says. “I think it’s just promoting or improving youth care.

“So minimize the retelling [a] story and reduce the amount of time they spend in queues between services.”

The project aims to bring together a range of different youth mental health services offered by Sonder – such as exit, headspace Edinburgh North and headspace Youth Early Psychosis – to ensure young people do not have to repeat their stories to various healthcare professionals.

The overall goal is for the participant to receive treatment in a timely manner and not to fall into the cracks.

Sarah* is another young woman who lives in the northern suburbs and previously had access to Sonder’s services. She underwent cognitive therapy and counseling and says she considers herself “lucky” to have received psychiatric help for anxiety, depression, and anorexia nervosa.

She heard many stories about acquaintances living in the northern suburbs who did not manage to get support in time.

“Friends and stuff say they had to wait a full three months for an appointment, and they didn’t find their clinicians helpful, in terms of not listening to them,” Sarah says.

“There’s only one headspace in Edinburgh, then the next…I don’t know where, but it’s far. If Adelaide itself had more services, I feel it would make more people available to get help.”

This photo: Priscilla de Prez

Since the pandemic began in early 2020, Josh and Jessica have said they have seen an increase in the number of people with eating disorders. Josh describes it as a “huge” issue.

Daily I recently reported on SA Health data showing that the number of children and young adults hospitalized in South Australia for eating disorders jumped by 43 per cent in one year.

Josh and Jessica will give a presentation at the 2022 Mental Health Conference in Sydney, talking about Sonder’s multi-agency approach. As they said above, this is not a solution, but an improvement.

However, there was a national interest in repeating the program.

“There has been interest from other services across the country and how government and federally funded programs work together,” Josh says.

People who need support can contact The Butterfly Foundation helpline on 1800 33 4673. Or they can chat on the Internet or E-mail, Or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.