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Families and carers not alone when it comes to drug and mental health support

Federation University Associate Professor Kate Moore has been leading evaluations into some key health programs for the Gippsland Primary Health Network (GPHN).

Gippsland faces a number of health challenges impacted by factors including bushfires, closure of power stations and loss of employment.

These challenges place extra pressure on those in the community with drug-abuse or mental-health issues, and in particular on the families and carers who support them.

For vulnerable people in the community, primary health programs provide vital support services that offer strategies to cope within these circumstances, letting those affected know that they are not alone.

One project Kate is undertaking is an evaluation of the Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Family and Carers Support Service program, which was commissioned by the GPHN and is being delivered by the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO).

The Traralgon-based AOD program, supported by staff in Bairnsdale, aims to provide families and carers with evidence-based strategies that enable them to better deal with caring for people with alcohol and drug issues, and provide useful, non-judgemental support.

“People who go to the service have often been struggling with managing their family member and their own reactions to the family member’s difficulties for some years,” said Professor Moore.

“To find that they can go to ACSO and be supported by people who understand the issues and who can give them strategies and understanding, that for many people becomes very liberating and freeing. It gives them a sense that they can cope a whole lot better.”

The service includes education, referral, advocacy and support, as well as providing individual, group, and peer-based work and access to after-hours service at least once a week.

Another evaluation project underway is looking at the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program commissioned by the GPHN for delivery by Outcome Health in Foster, Korumburra, Yarragon, Philip Island and Sale.

The program employs mental health nurses, in collaboration with GPs and psychiatrists, to help provide coordinated clinical care for people with severe mental disorders.

Through the program, mental health nurses can monitor a patient’s mental state, help them manage their medication, and improve links to other health professionals and clinical service providers.

The services are provided at no cost to the patient within the local medical practices, which removes some of the stigma associated with mental health.

“All patients have said how destigmatising this is because they don’t actually have to go to a venue that says psychiatrist, psychologist or mental health practitioner. They could be going to the clinic for any reason,” said Professor Moore.

It is anticipated that these projects will reveal the strengths of each program and celebrate their achievements while also highlighting opportunities to better support their participants and facilitators.

Better publicising these services to the community is also a necessity for the programs to make a positive impact for vulnerable persons within our region.

“Several participants in the AOD program said that they only heard about it through word of mouth and several people suggested that it needed be advertised more.”

Professor Moore expressed gratitude for the contributions of her collaborators, Federation University staff Senior Psychology Lecturer Samia Toukhsati and Associate Dean (Teaching Quality) Damian Morgan, and stated that the programs had made a positive difference for the community.

“Both programs were very well received [and] very well appreciated by all the participants,” she said.