4 March 2022

Mind's Connect program is an alternative to hospitalisation and Emergency Department presentations for South Australians experiencing mental distress and suicidality.

Content warning: The following article discusses suicide. If this article raises concerns for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Selina (not pictured above) was so afraid she would suicide that she gave her adored Scottish Collies to a friend to care for. She did not want her four-legged friends trapped in the house to starve after she was gone.

“My dogs are my life but I knew I was at risk of suiciding. I had all the drugs I needed to do it - antidepressants, pain management, blood medications,” she said.

Selina, 59, who has been diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and lives with chronic pain, went to the Emergency Department of her local hospital last year but she could not get the help she needed.

“I sat there for seven and a half hours in a complete mess in the waiting area. I asked them how much longer it would be and they said it could be another seven or eight hours, so I gave up and went home. I tried every help line there was but I couldn’t get through to anyone.”

She spent six weeks in a clinic where she did not have access to a psychiatrist and was eventually discharged. There was no follow up for six weeks after her discharge. She was eventually referred to a mental health service that referred her to a new Mind Australia program called Connect.

The Connect program is an alternative to hospitalisation and Emergency Department presentations for South Australians experiencing mental distress and suicidality. Mind Australia is delivering the 12-week support program in the northern suburbs of Adelaide, in a proof of concept program funded by Northern Adelaide Local Health Network.

A key feature of the program is that all support is provided by Peer Practitioners – qualified Mind mental health practitioners who have their own lived experience of mental ill-health. The hope, empathy and trust this shared experience engenders can be a massive kick-start to the client’s recovery.

“Connect has been very helpful. It’s good to be able to talk to someone about the emotions of dealing with family relationships,” Selina said. “Kris (Kristen Redden - Selina’s support worker) has been down that road as well with depression and family issues, so she gets it.

Ms Redden said she has worked with Selena on what to do when she is in crisis.

“We work on recognising when her distress is escalating and how to regulate her emotions when that’s happening,” Ms Redden said. “At Connect, our overarching goal is to help clients find strategies to be able to better manage their mental health when they are in crisis, so they don’t have to resort to presenting to an Emergency Department.”

The practitioners also support individuals and their families to establish relationships with key service providers to ensure an integrated suite of supports is available to meet their identified needs.

Participants can receive support face-to-face, through virtual platforms or telephone support, or a combination of the three.

More than 95 clients have been referred to the program by Emergency Departments, Acute Inpatient units and the South Australian Ambulance Service since the program began in July 2021.

Connect provides a more appropriate alternative to an Emergency Department for people in mental distress and relieves pressure on South Australia’s overburdened hospital and ambulance services.

Denise Cumming, Mind’s Executive Director of Operations for South Australia, said South Australia needs more programs like Connect to fill gaps in the state’s mental health system.

“The Mental Health Coalition of South Australia’s advocacy campaign has highlighted how too many people in South Australia end up in hospital or at Emergency Departments in crisis because of a lack of in-community support services in the current system,” Ms Cumming said.

“Support services in the community, like the Connect program, are the missing link that can help people achieve sustained recovery in the community.” For more on the Connect Program, visit the Mind website.