The experience of being in a mental health unit and then returning to the world can be a difficult transition for people on the road to recovery.
“You have very few rights or freedoms when you’re in a mental health unit, and then you’re put back out into the world where you have to stand on your own two feet – and you really do need some help,” says Rae, who knows the experience well.
Almost 25 years ago, Rae’s marriage broke down, she lost her work and her home and ended up in hospital. When she was discharged from hospital, she felt out of touch with everyday life and found it difficult to adjust back into the ‘real’ world.
“When you’ve been in hospital, you get out of touch with everyday things like paying your bills, managing your finances, but also managing your time, having somewhere to go every day, not staying isolated and alone.”
It wasn’t until she was referred to a small community organisation called Billabong Clubhouse, that her life started to take shape in her regional town of Tamworth.
“Billabong Clubhouse is a second home to me, and without their support over the years, I would’ve had far more time in hospitals”, says Rae.
Originally formed by the local community in the early 1990s to meet the mental health needs of Tamworth and surrounding regions, Billabong Clubhouse began under the ‘clubhouse’ US-based model of psychosocial rehabilitation.
The idea centres around people living with a severe mental health condition in the community working together to support the clubhouse, and each other, through participation and connection.
Rae remembers the support she received from a staff member when she first arrived, to participate and connect again with others and find a sense of purpose. She would help with accounting duties at the clubhouse and it gave her somewhere to go every day and keep her out of hospital.
Today, Billabong Clubhouse provides a wide range of evidence-based psychosocial support programs and services for adults with mental health conditions, from gardening, art classes and woodworking to budgeting workshops, healthy eating programs and more.
Individuals are often referred through community service workers and assessed to receive the supports they need.
Another valuable service is Billabong’s pick-up and drop-off ‘lunch at the club’ for people at the local hospital providing time away from a clinical environment.
Luke Macdonald, a mental health support worker at Billabong, highlights the importance of having these ‘breaks’ for people in hospitals.
“You can really see the success that people have when they do that mid-way break to Billabong. They can see what a psychosocial support service is about. Some of them may have never even spoken to a community mental health support worker.”
Knowing that community support is there for the transition out of hospital is invaluable for people beginning their recovery journey and the sector believes more services like Billabong are needed in regional areas.
“People don’t get supported enough after discharge from hospital – it’s difficult to get your bearings again when you’ve been inside a hospital unit, affected by medications. There is a real gap in the level of support, particularly for regional areas that don’t have these options,” Luke says.
Rae believes the programs have given her a reason to get up in the morning and given structure to her life. She recently completed a Certificate in Food Handling and will be helping with a new soup kitchen at Billabong to offer a free meal for locals and also provide mental health support.
“There’s no need to be alone, there’s always someone to talk to, and even if you don’t feel like talking, it’s a beautiful place to sit under the trees, for people to simply relax and feel like they can be themselves.”
Find out more about Billabong Clubhouse at billabongclubhouse.org.au
Many thanks to Rae and Luke for sharing their time, experiences and photographs.