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Riding For Mental Health 2015

780 kms in 7 days is the quest of some veteran cyclists from Sale, who are determined to raise community awareness of the need for governments’ to allocate more resources to mental health.

The Sale veterans, Lance Hunt, Guusta Westra, Robert Larsen and Amanda Jackson are all experienced long distance cyclists. Between them they’ve tackled epic rides in Russia, Vietnam, Europe and the Australian Outback.

Mental Health Ride 2015a

To be launched by the Mayor of Sale, Cr. Carolyn Crossley, the ride will commence in Sale on Tuesday 17 March.

All of Gippsland’s state and federal politicians will be invited to participate in the ride to accompany other people who will be joining the ride during its various stages and who are also committed to improved mental health outcomes.

The Gippsland circuit will include the towns of Bairnsdale, Lakes Entrance, Nowa Nowa, Orbost, Yarram, Welshpool, Foster, Leongatha, Korumburra, Koo Wee Rup, Pakenham, Nar Nar Goon, Drouin, Warragul, Moe, Morwell, Traralgon, Heyfield, and Maffra,

Lance Hunt is a tireless advocate for better mental health outcomes. He is also the convenor of the Wellington Chapter of Gippsland’s mental health advocacy charity, Barrier Breakers.

Lance said, “Mental health is a subject that we tend not to speak about much in the community, the illness can lead to disastrous consequences for many families, particularly in areas where services are difficult to access.”

“Additionally, we know mental illness costs businesses millions of dollars a year in lost time.
“Barrier Breakers is a great organisation and it is continuing to lobby for better services and housing for people with a mental illness in the Gippsland region”.
“Given that one in every 5 people (20%) will have a mental illness in any one year, we all need to do much, much more to get the governments attention. We surely cannot ignore the pressing needs of so many people,”

While this ride will be raising money for the efforts of Barrier Breakers, we are also aiming to shine a bright light on the problem and to let sufferers know that they are not alone.” Lance concluded.
Cheques can be sent to PO Box 39, Maffra, Victoria, 3860, made payable to Lance Hunt (reference on back of cheque to Mental Health Ride).

Barrier Breakers Inc. is a tax endorsed Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) and all donations of $2.00 or more are tax deductible. A tax deductible receipt will be issued.

For further information – contact Lance Hunt on 0417544663

Mentally ill people threatened with loss of disability support pension by Gov report.

People with a mental illness will be targeted as one of the groups to become ineligible for the disability support pension (DSP) if the federal government adopts the recommendations of a review into DSP.

Patrick McClure, the head of the federal government review, whose interim report was released last Sunday, said people would “not necessarily be better off” under the proposed welfare reforms.  In other words – they will be worse off.

More than 800,000 Australians receive up to $813 a fortnight on the DSP, which is designed to compensate those who are unable to work due to debilitating physical or mental/intellectual illnesses. According to Patrick McClure, 30% of the 800,000 DSP recipients (that’s around 240,000 people) had a mental illness that was only “episodic in nature”.

Asked how many people would lose the DSP, McClure said,mentally ill people could be moved to a working age payment instead. In other words, the dole – Newstart Allowance – a change which would cut pensions by approximately $155 per week, an equivalent of just over $8,000 lost income per year.

This attitude complies with the intention of the Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, who seeks to review the cases of young people and new applications for the pension; citing the possibility of setting up a specialist panel of doctors to decide on cases of DSP receipt, and the length the payment will be received. We all know how understanding these panels will be.

This is a real “kick in the guts” for the mentally ill. The DSP provides essential support to people who live with this disability. Mental illness is responsible for more years lost to disability in Australia than cancer or heart disease, and has a disproportionately higher impact on younger adults, particularly during the period when they would normally just be beginning their employment/careers.

As for mental illness being “episodic in nature”, Well hello, of course it is.  Given the often fluctuating nature of the impact of mental illness, sufferers find it extremely difficult to adjust between episodes of wellness, when they may be able to work for a period and when unwellness occurs with an intensity, which prevents them from working.

Surely, the government is not proposing that these already ill people will need to be hit with the double whammy of a significant drop in income from DSP to Newstart and then a period of absolutely nothing at all, while they wait for Centrelink to reinstate their DSP?  This can only add to their trauma and lengthen the periods of unwellness.

We call upon all concerned citizens, welfare organisations and their peak bodies to raise-up in arms over this inhumane proposal.

Download a submission template and send to

Illness with Dignity – Treating Mental Illness as a Health Issue…

The recent announcement by the Victorian government for a $15.1 million investment over the next four years to change the way mental health, police and emergency services across the state work to respond to mental health crises in the community, deserves further analysis.

Community mental health is indeed in a crisis and this injection of money is so badly needed. Indeed it could be trebled and it still wouldn’t fix the underlying problems, such as emergency triage, treatment and supported accommodation.

Remember, it was only last year when the Victoria Police reported that they are arresting suspected mentally ill people at the rate of one every two hours in Victoria.

This followed a report by the then Office of Police Integrity (OPI), which advised 17 of the 32 people fatally shot by Victoria Police between 1990 and 1996 were considered to have had a mental disorder at the time of the shooting.

When considered alongside the fact that more than 30% of people incarcerated in our prisons have a mental illness, it is a shocking indictment on any society that permits unwell people to be either shot or thrown in jail.

The OPI report, which was tabled in State Parliament revealed:

Ambulance Victoria was not fulfilling its obligation to transport suspected mentally ill people, with police being left to handle most of them.

Police experience such long delays in getting specialist crisis assessment and treatment (CAT) teams to attend incidents involving the mentally ill that they refer to them as “Call Again Tomorrow” teams (at least they have them, there are no CAT teams in Gippsland).

Almost half the incidents Victoria Police’s critical incident response team is called out to, are related to the mentally ill.

The OPI said the closure of mental health facilities in Victoria during the deinstitutionalisation process in the 1980s and 90s – and the subsequent inadequate provision of community based mental health services – had contributed to police having such regular encounters with the mentally ill.

The report recommended changes to free up police so they don’t need to spend as much time having to deal with the mentally ill.

The then Acting OPI Director Ron Bonighton, said the suspected mentally ill people detained by police were invariably taken to crowded hospital emergency departments or police cells, resulting in very long delays for police and the arrested person.

He recommended that the State Government set up a new dedicated facility so those arrested could be immediately psychiatrically assessed and cared for.

“The establishment of such a facility could promote better care and emergency treatment for people who have an acute mental episode in metropolitan Melbourne, while easing the strain on resources that police and some emergency departments currently experience,” Mr Bonighton said.

“The benefit for mentally ill persons is that such a facility can improve the care available during times of crisis.

“For police and emergency departments there are also tangible and efficient gains.

“The time that police spend waiting for mental health assessments to occur could be drastically reduced.

“Police could return to other jobs.

“The police transport of people who appear to be mentally ill is at odds with the rights, dignity and interests of people requiring mental health assessment.

“The safety of such people warrants transportation in an ambulance to an appropriate mental health facility.

“A person experiencing a mental health crisis does not belong in a police cell. Mental illness is a health problem.

“Safe, dignified and respectful transport for people with a mental health problem happens best in an ambulance, not in the back of a divisional van.”

So here is the Victoria Police saying the obvious – mental illness is a health problem. The fact is – our society should treat people with a mental illness with the same respect and concern as we do for people suffering cancer or any other illness.



Victorian Mental Health and Police Response Initiative

The Media announcement (below) from Mental Health Minister is recognition of one of the most serious problems our communities have encountered since the deinstitutionalisation of our mental health system. Many, many unwell people, suffering psychotic episodes, have been seriously injured or killed during interventions. Many others have been denied a proper assessment, care and treatment because of a serious lack of trained people, let alone appropriate follow-up clinical services.

Consequently, far too many people with a mental illness end up in our prisons (more than 30% of our prison population have a mental illness).

One of the greatest problems facing us all is the failure of governments’, of all political persuasions, to provide on-going and supported accommodation for those unfortunate souls with chronic mental illness. This is the missing link in the chain of so-called reforms, which followed the closure of psychiatric hospitals.

The Minister’s announcement is welcome news, but until such time as governments’ are moved to provide safe, affordable and supported accommodation for people with long-term mental illness, it is a bit like the little boy who put his finger in the dyke.

Please do all you can to push this cause with all your might.


Derek Amos


Barrier Breakers Inc



$15.1 million for statewide mental health and police crisis response

  • Victorian Coalition Government funding a statewide rollout of a key mental health and emergency services initiative
  • Investment of $15.1 million for police, ambulance and mental health personnel to tailor local solutions to each crisis response
  • Coalition Government is building safer communities by driving local solutions for local needs

A $15.1 million Victorian Government investment over four years will change the way mental health, police and emergency services across the state work to respond to mental health crises in the community.

Minister for Mental Health Mary Wooldridge and Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Lucinda Nolan today announced the new Mental Health and Police Response (MHaP Response) funding for each of Victoria’s 21 Area Mental Health Services.

Funding for the initiative will be provided in the upcoming 2014/15 Victorian State Budget and will deliver a more targeted and timely response to a person needing urgent mental health support in the community, while also reducing pressure on police, ambulance and emergency department resources.

“We know that a large number of police and ambulance call-outs involve people in a critical state due to mental illness,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“Our new funding will allow mental health, police and emergency services teams to develop their own unique and local mental health crisis response.”

The MHaP Response draws on previous pilot projects in Bayside, Kingston and Glen Eira council areas as well as through Eastern Health, Alfred Health and Northern Health. These trials, variously known as PACER, NPACER or PARTS among others, brought mental health practitioners together with police to respond to a mental health crisis, rather than it escalating unnecessarily and involving an emergency department.

“Evaluations of the pilots found that people suffering an episode of mental illness were less likely to end up in the local emergency department and that police units could be released to other duties more quickly,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“Our investment provides dedicated funding across Victoria to establish a new locally-based coordinated mental health crisis response.”

This funding means that mental health professionals in each region will work with local police and ambulance personnel to tailor the crisis response to the local realities on the ground.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Lucinda Nolan said police welcomed the funding announcement.
“The commitment means we can continue to work with our health partners to provide specialist services, such as PACER units, to those people who need it most.

“It will allow us to tailor our service for those affected by mental health issues and their families, enabling us to provide timely and effective intervention,” Deputy Commissioner Nolan said.

These initiatives will ensure that people with a mental illness will receive the most appropriate and the least-restrictive care in a timely manner, minimising harm to the person and their family by being supported in their community.

This investment aligns with other reforms to front-line crisis support services underway including replacing the current Crisis Assessment Team (CAT) Guidelines with Acute Community Intervention Services (ACIS) Guidelines to reflect provisions of the new Mental Health Act from 1 July. These new Guidelines will be issued shortly.


An Open Letter To The Victorian Government

An open letter to the Victorian Government dated 20 February 2014

Download pdf file:  An open letter to the Vic Gov 20 Feb 2014
Dear Premier and Ministers,

The following submission was made to the Ministers’ of Mental Health and Housing, with copies to all coalition MP’s, who represent the Gippsland region.

We are told that despite the government’s announced Budget surplus, there are insufficient funds available to meet the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We find this state of affairs intolerable and call upon you all to seriously reconsider your funding priorities when both crafting the state Budget and the government’s pre-election commitments.
Extract from the submission:
As you are aware from our advocacy on behalf of people with a mental illness over many years now, there is a desperate shortage of accommodation in the Gippsland region appropriate for the needs of people with life-long (chronic) mental illness. In this regard, we refer specifically to accommodation which:
 Is affordable for people on a Disability Support Pension
 Is Secure and long-term in tenure
 Provides the tenants with daily out-reach support programs
 Ensures continued easy access to clinical supports commensurate to the tenants mental health needs
We firmly believe that with deinstitutionalisation and the abandonment of mental hospitals, this model of accommodation really is the only way many of our citizens with life-long illnesses, such as schizophrenia, can adjust to normal lives within their communities. Experience since deinstitutionalisation has clearly demonstrated that in the absence of such supports, mental health recovery is impeded and far too many sufferers return to acute care in psychiatric wards – the “revolving door” syndrome.
This current system, which perpetuates such a “revolving door” approach to chronic mental illness, not only fails to address the basic patient care rights of our mentally ill, it also imposes a greater cost burden on the government purse resulting from too frequent presentations to acute care wards and other costs/expenses met by the community. It costs around $800 per day for acute care presentations and when you add to this the cost of unpaid rent for Ministry of Housing or private sector accommodation and a host of other expenses, met by communities in providing emergency assistance, it amounts to a considerable cost burden on the public purse.
Indeed. the burden on the public purse for not addressing the special housing needs of the mentally ill and the overall magnitude of the problem assumes its true importance when viewed in the context of what other alternative accommodation choices are either available or are forced upon some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
These alternatives include, couch-surfing with families or friends, caravans, boarding houses, nursing homes and worst of all, incarceration in prisons.

The facts are:
 Up to 85% of all homeless people present with a mental illness.
 The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that almost one third of prisoners entering jail already have a mental illness (a rate 2.5 times higher than the general population).
 Up to 93% of Aboriginal detainees have some form of mental illness.
 Rates of major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and depression are three to five times higher among prisoners than those in the general population.
While some people could justly claim that even the former mental institutions are preferable to incarceration in prison, we believe that every possible effort should be made to ensure that people with chronic mental illnesses are supported so they do not encounter our criminal justice system and can live normally in their communities. Moreover, the cost burden borne by the public purse for incarceration in prison is much, much more than that for the provision of the supported accommodation model we propose. Council of Australian Government figures show that average real net operating expenditure per prisoner per day (2009-2010) was $240.66, or close to $90,000 per year.
With respect to the incredibly high percentage of homeless people with a mental illness, we know from our advocacy work that many, many chronically ill people, who live in inappropriate accommodation, such as couch-surfing, caravans and boarding houses do not receive any outreach support at all and the periods of their unwellness are more frequent than would otherwise be the case.
The relationship between mental illness, homelessness and suicide is also of great concern. A recent study undertaken in Canada of a sample of 330 homeless adults revealed that 61% reported suicidal ideation and 34% had attempted suicide. In Australia, suicide is a prominent health concern. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that the average number of suicide per year is 2,320. Moreover, it reports that for those of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander decent, the suicide rate is 2.5 times higher for males and 3.4 times higher for females.
While actual suicide rates are notoriously difficult to ascertain, e.g. single occupant vehicle fatalities, we know that for Gippsland, the anecdotal evidence suggests that this region has the dubious reputation of having one of the highest suicide rates in the state. There would be no doubt that homelessness, mental illness and an absence of adequate support services would be contributing factors.
We can and should do much better than this. It is for these reasons, we strongly argue for the especially dedicated supported accommodation model mentioned above.
You will recall that we first raised this matter of supported accommodation at a meeting in Parliament House with government MP’s in March 2011.
We are indeed grateful for your support, which in turn, resulted in the government’s support for a project to construct special units of supported accommodation in Hyde Park Road Traralgon.
In the period since then we have also experienced tremendous community support for this project. This has been both an uplifting, but humbling experience as communities in every electorate across Gippsland have rallied to our public appeal for financial contributions to the project and demonstrated overwhelming public support for the model of accommodation being proposed.
There is no doubt in our minds that our communities in Gippsland have embraced this model of accommodation for the mentally ill and clearly prefer to see their loved-ones with a mental illness housed appropriately and supported, rather than neglected and left to fend for themselves.
We are therefore asking the state government to make provision in next year’s Budget for an allocation of funds to enable a roll-out of this supported accommodation model in at least ten (10) major towns throughout the Gippsland region. We estimate that the average cost for a 6-8 unit development is around $1 million, so we are asking for a budgetary provision of $10 million over 4 years.
This would be a meaningful regional pilot that could be progressively rolled-out across the state with funding from future Budgets.
Gippsland is a unique region for such a pilot program – its 250,000 inhabitants are spread-out of its 44,000 km in many relatively small communities, some less accessible than others and many of them disadvantaged by their remoteness from mainstream services. The closure of Hobson’s Park – the region’s former psychiatric hospital in Traralgon, did leave a tremendous vacuum in so far as the accommodation of people with long-term mental illness is concerned. A vacuum that has never been filled with normal social housing options, particularly when social housing is simply not available and even when it is, long waiting lists for social housing add to the disadvantage experienced by the mentally ill.
$10 million over four years is not a “big ask”. At $2.5 million per year, it is a small, small fraction of the running cost of the former Hobson Park hospital and less than 1% of the $300 million revised State Budget surplus, recently announced by the government. When you consider that it costs around $800 per day to fund a patient’s stay in acute psychiatric care and an average stay is around 5 days, our accommodation model will also save the government money by reducing the number of incidents of unwellness requiring acute care.
Can we count on your support for this proposal? In the sincere hope that we can, we ask whether you and your Gippsland Parliamentary colleagues will agree to meet a small deputation from our Board to discuss how best to further a Budget submission for the allocation we seek? We are prepared to meet with you all at Parliament House at a time, which is convenient to all of you. We look forward in anticipation of your positive response.
Yours sincerely,
Derek Amos
Hon. Chief Executive Officer.


Gippland Medicare Local – Health & Wellbeing Survey


Gippsland Medicare Local (GML) is asking for the input of the Gippsland community on what it deems as the major health and wellbeing issues via a survey (see link below).

The survey requests the community’s opinions on health and wellbeing issues in Gippsland, access to programs and services, and suggestions for improvements. Anyone residing in Gippsland and over the age of 18 is welcome to complete a survey.

Participants who get involved in the assessment by providing feedback go in a draw to win one of 20 $50 vouchers to your closest supermarket.

Organisations with an interest in the health industry are also encouraged to complete the stakeholder survey form.

You can access the survey by clicking this link:

Reform Deeply Needed

Apparent workplace dissatisfaction at Latrobe Regional Hospital’s adult psychiatric unit, Flynn Ward, is eroding the service’s ability to cater for the region’s growing mental health needs, according to a leading advocate.

Derek Amos, chief executive of mental health advocacy group Barrier Breakers, said worker conditions and patient satisfaction at the ward had been a point of contention for some time.
“There’s been long-standing concerns about what they call the ‘fishbowl attitude’ at Flynn at the nurses stations, where the nurses were very rarely seen to be out in wards with the patients,” Mr Amos said.

“In our last communication with (LRH earlier this year) they informed us they would be changing their procedures, and nurses were going to spend a lot more time out on ward with patients.” The Express has been contacted by three mental health carers deeply dissatisfied with the treatment of their patients – in all cases close relatives – during admissions to the Flynn ward over the past 12 months.
“Whichever way you look at it, this all stems from an under resourced system, which is really the crux of the problem here,” Mr Amos said. “When there is such a great thoroughfare of patients through Flynn, there’s no question you are failing to address your patient’s needs, and there are a lot of staff who find that difficult to live with.”

Mr Amos said the situation uncovered a “deep” need for regional mental health services to be governed by dedicated mental health boards.

“The LRH board is responsible for cancer, medicine and all sorts of other departments and responsibilities, but we argue that mental illness is far more complex and deserves its own dedicated group of people to monitor accountability and respond to needs as they arise,” Mr Amos said.

Appeal for Life

An appeal has been launched to save the lives of young people contemplating suicide.

Gippsland advocates for mental health, Barrier Breakers, has been moved to act following representations from medical professionals, who have expressed grave concerns over cut-backs to Medicare, which are denying critical counselling support to vulnerable young people.

In launching the appeal, Barrier Breakers CEO, Derek Amos, said government cut-backs, limiting the number of counselling sessions with psychologists were now posing a very significant threat to recovery from depressive illnesses and increasing the risk of suicide.

He said these cut-backs reduced the number of consultations with psychologists that Doctors could refer their patients to under their mental health plan from 12-18 in any one year to 6-10 sessions.

So now, the current systems only provides a maximum of 10 sessions and this is grossly inadequate for some patients with severe depressive illness and complex needs.

Mr. Amos said the cut-backs were also placing a heavy burden on psychologists, many of whom are now forced to reduce or remit their fees so that patients at risk could continue to receive critical recovery care.

“Many patients are poor and their illnesses prevent employment, so their only form of income is the Newstart Allowance or Disability Support Pension”.

The simple fact of life is, they cannot afford to pay for these critical counselling sessions”.

Mr. Amos said Barrier Breakers was presenting a submission to the new federal Health Minister and the Treasurer.

“People’s lives are at grave risk here and we call upon the new federal government to restore these critical sessions back to the maximum of 18 consults per year.”

Mr. Amos said that because of the immediate seriousness of this situation, Barrier Breakers was seeking public contributions to create a relief fund, which will be used to assist the most vulnerable until the cut-backs were reversed.

Barrier Breakers has launched the appeal on their web-site and Facebook page and cited the case of a young woman with the fictional name of “Brenda”. 

“In asking Gippslanders to give generously to this appeal, we also call upon all Gippsland politicians to support the reinstatement of these essential counselling sessions”, Mr. Amos concluded.

For further information, contact Derek Amos on 0428397706.

What price a life? Will you help?

Young Brenda is only 23 years old and has already defeated death twice. She is desperately clinging to life and hopes and prays that every new day will make her stronger so that she can function normally and be a valued member of her community.

You see, Brenda suffers from acute anxiety and depression and twice now, when the black moods threatened to completely overwhelm her, she attempted suicide.

Fortunately for Brenda, she sought help and her GP developed a mental health plan, which started her road to recovery. Under the plan, her GP was able to also refer Brenda to a psychologist for ten counselling sessions under Medicare.

Unfortunately, Medicare will only meet the cost for ten sessions and Brenda is only half-way through her full recovery.

In an effort to help, Brenda’s Psychologist has kindly cut the counselling fee by half, but this still leaves Brenda with around $500 to find. Very near impossible to find on a Disability Support Pension.

So Barrier Breakers has decided to launch a public appeal to create a relief fund for Brenda and others like her with similar life threatening situations.

Will you open-up your heart and help?

You can donate to our relief fund using our PayPal account on this web-page. Remember all donations of $2.00 or more are tax deductible.

Come-on, let’s give Brenda the chance to live.

Accommodation for the Mentally Ill

Barrier Breakers is urging continuing community support in its quest to establish a pilot project which will provide supported accommodation for people with mental illnesses.

The organisation’s chief executive officer, Derek Amos, told guests at the Barrier Breakers third annual charity dinner in Traralgon on Saturday night (September 7) that construction would begin soon on the six unit pilot project in Traralgon, and the organisation wanted to roll out the model in every major town in Gippsland.

Mr Amos said one of the greatest unmet needs in Gippsland was the provision of safe, affordable and supported accommodation for people with long-term mental illness.

“Since the deinstitutionalisation of mental health services and the treatment of people with a mental illness in the communities in which they live, successive governments of all political persuasions at both the state and federal levels have continually failed to provide anywhere near adequate support services to those communities to enable them to cope with the burden of mental illness,” Mr Amos told the gathering.

“Homelessness in this region has a major detrimental impact on people with chronic mental illness.”

 “Governments have saved billions of dollars by closing institutions such as the former Hobson Park Psychiatric Hospital in Traralgon, but have returned precious little to our region to care for the accommodation needs of our ill and vulnerable.”

“From a 220-bed facility, which included a 50-bed alcohol and drug detoxification and rehabilitation centre, the region of Gippsland has now less than 100 beds available in a variety of settings including units that only provide short stay accommodation of no more than two years duration.”

Mr Amos said caravan parks, boarding houses, nursing homes and couch-surfing were too often the only alternative or even worse, incarceration in prison.

“What a shocking indictment on our society to allow our sons, daughters’ family members and any other member of our communities to be condemned to such a fate,” he said.

“There is no long-term supported accommodation security provided for some of the most vulnerable people in our society – people with life-long mental illness.”

Mr Amos said throughout their lives, people with chronic mental illness would experience periods of wellness, but also periods of illness, which often would require acute psychiatric care.