I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression, in varying degrees, for most of my life. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that it began to worsen. I’d had career success as a video producer, graphic and multimedia designer, and then as a senior lecturer in digital media. When my mental health deteriorated, I had numerous admissions as a psychiatric patient, and I experienced what I call ‘the revolving door of mental health’. You go in after an acute episode, stay a day and then you’re shown the door.
In recent years, however, I have journeyed far from this experience, after being a consumer at St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Prevention and Recovery Care (PARC) facility in North Fitzroy (run in partnership with Wellways), becoming a volunteer in the Wellways Life in Community program (LINC) and my employment as Peer Support Worker at St Vincent’s Footbridge Community Care Unit. Each of these steps has been an important part of my recovery.
As Nietzsche once said: ‘And if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you’. Well, I made that mistake and I became really unwell. I was lucky enough to be homeless, (if one can say such a thing) and, as a result, I was admitted to the Acute Inpatient Service at St Vincent’s. This was the beginning of my turning point towards recovery.
A PARC is what’s known as a ‘step up, step down’ service, meaning a person can step up from the community or step down from hospital. It’s a residential setting that provides both clinical and social support, and for those ‘stepping up’, it will hopefully prevent a hospital admission. It is a place where someone can access intensive support to work on one or more specific goals.
After six weeks in the inpatient unit I was discharged to the North Fitzroy PARC. I can’t tell you the sense of relief I felt at being given a room of one’s own, and such a nice one at that. They all have comfy beds, ensuite bathrooms, a fridge and a safe for medications.
Fitzroy PARC has 10 beds. Sometimes they have a full house and at other times there will be fewer people. Regardless of how many people are there, it has a much more relaxed feel than being on the ward.
A day at PARC starts between 8am and 10am with breakfast items available in the kitchen. If you’re not up by about 11am, staff will come and give you a nudge, mainly to see how residents are, but also to make sure we don’t spend the whole day in bed.
An important part of PARC is establishing a routine. In the first few days, residents have a meeting with their program worker – someone who acts like a case manager. During these meetings we had conversations about some of the things I enjoy doing and what I hoped to achieve while staying at PARC.
PARC residents have the opportunity to join one of the groups that are offered. These range from cooking, art and music, to name a few. People can also do things in the community and there’s a shopping run once a week.
From time-to-time, residents meet up with their program worker to chat about how they are travelling.
The communal kitchen at PARC encourages residents and staff to socialise but does not force them to do so. It’s nice to walk into the kitchen and be greeted by a staff member quietly finding the edges of a puzzle or engaged in conversation with another consumer.
One of the things that I really liked about PARC was having a choice. A choice of whether to do something or not, rather than being told what to do. People are around if you need them, and if you don’t, that’s ok too. There is also a much greater degree of autonomy, and within reason you can come and go as you please. The staff at PARC are recovery-focused, however, they also have an ability to be flexible in their approach. This is really important, because, as you know, we’re all different and what works for me won’t necessarily work for you. Another important part of PARC is the weekly community meeting, the purpose of which is to plan the week ahead. This involves consumers making a contribution to the upkeep of PARC, and it is also an opportunity for people to provide feedback.
My stay at PARC was for the full 28 days and, when I left, I was in a much better place. For the first time in years I’d had the opportunity to just ‘be’ without the pressure of having to do life stuff.
I stayed with my parents for a few weeks before finding a place of my own. Since then I am happy to report that I have not had another hospital admission as a psychiatric patient.
Jeremy Le Roux
Peer Worker at St Vincent’s Footbridge program
Read part 2: My experience: Life in Community