Hannah goes gonzo on Swinburne wellbeing services.
EPISODE FIVE: “HANNAH GOES GONZO ON SWINBURNE WELLBEING SERVICES”
I graduated from my Swinburne media and comms degree back in 2015. I studied online, which was sick because I could work and study whenever I wanted. And I didn’t really think I’d miss campus life – I figured I’d just spend the whole time trying to find the right building.
But that also meant I never really knew about any of the services available on campus, especially the mental health ones. And since I’ve now discovered them through this podcast, I wish I knew about them back then because they’re a bloody good deal.
So I’m going to go and figure the whole thing out and pass all the information on to you, so you can go soak ’em up. I’m going to tell you what’s on offer, how to access it all, and who is around to help if you ever find yourself struggling
music: melodic trip hop
First up, it has to be said that needing some help and support to deal with whatever challenges you might be facing, is really, really normal. It’s not a sign of defeat, or weakness, or that you’re failing at life. Shit happens, and sometimes we need a bit of help to pick ourselves up again and get back to it. And that’s normal.
In fact, 25% of young people will experience a mental issue of some sort in any given year, but only a quarter of that number seek support. So let’s make a pact: if you find yourself struggling, reach out. There’s actually a lot of help available.
SFX: Hannah walking
At Swinburne Hawthorn, that help is on Level 4 of the George Building, at the Swinburne Health and Wellbeing Service.
music: bluesy percussion
And I’m on my way there now to speak with Christine Sheahan, one of the mental health nurses on staff there.
If you’re at Croydon, you’ll want to head to CA130, and at Wantirna it’s WA121.
I love therapy. I’ve had all sorts of mental health struggles throughout my life and going to see someone is a constant. Sometimes it’s because I’m having a major meltdown and my anxiety is through the roof, but other times it’s because I’m stressed out, or going through a breakup, or just feeling kind of flat for no real reason. Point is, no issue is too big or too small.
SFX: in the elevator
I’m in the elevator now, heading up to Level 4 of the George, and the last thing I wanted to say up front is that these services you’ll hear about are free for Swinburne students. As in, they’ll cost you zero dollars. If you’re an International Student, you can still use the services, but you might have to pay a small small amount that your overseas health cover provider doesn’t. Best to talk with your provider or the reception staff at Wellbeing.
SFX: elevator opens
And here we are. The waiting room looks like any you’d find in a medical clinic. There’s trashy magazines, a tv on the wall playing some kind of health-related videos, and some nice receptionists.
There are a whole bunch of professionals I can see here, including a GP, a dietitian, a physio, registered nurses, mental health nurses, psychologists, and psychiatrists. And I can see these people for any number of reasons. Want to give up the smokes? Come to Wellbeing! Need a travel vaccine? Come to Wellbeing! Weird burning when you pee? Come to Wellbeing! Decided to be vegan and need some advice? You get the idea.
Regardless of who you’re seeing, you go to the same reception desk. So, no one in the waiting room will know what you’re here for.
If you’re here because you’re struggling with a mental health issue, you just rock up and put your name down to see someone for a short 30 minute assessment. This is called a triage appointment. I repeat, you do not need to book for this.
After you put your name down, you’ll be given an iPad with a questionnaire. It’s like a Buzzfeed quiz, but useful.
And then you just wait until your name is called by a mental health nurse for your triage assessment.
music: theme (medium tempo hip hop beats with piano)
I’m Hannah McElhinney, and this is The Things I’ve Thought.
So the triage workers are mental health nurses. And their job is to have a talk with you about what are the kinds of things that are troubling you, and then to make a bit of a plan of action.
Christine is one of seven mental health nurses in the triage and counselling team at the Swinburne Health and Wellbeing Service.
A mental health nurse is a nurse with general nursing as a qualification and then a specialty qualification in psychiatric nursing. So, their job is to support students during the transition period in life and maybe some crises that come up as well. They provide information and education on how to keep good mental health or how to bounce back if it’s gone missing. And also they can be provide you with some talking therapy.
The consultation room looks just like any other office, except that it’s got two chairs for me and Christine to sit in. On a table between them, is a tissue box, presumably for if I start weeping, which has been known to happen.
So what’s the purpose of the triage appointment which is, I guess my first point of contact with Wellbeing?
So the purpose of the triage appointment is to speak with you about what you consider to be the most pressing things that you want to deal with. And then you will talk there about whether that might be who you might see for ongoing counselling, whether you might need to go and see a doctor, whether it might be necessary to see a psychiatrist, whether it’s a general stress and life changes, and then you might go for some more general counselling.
It might be daunting coming in here and having to tell a stranger some of the negative stuff that is going on, but Christine is calm, friendly, and is making me feel super comfortable.
I really enjoy being a mental health clinician, and I feel that it’s very valuable work. One of my colleagues here, Yvonne, she reminds me repeatedly how fortunate, as clinicians, we are to have the opportunity to talk to people - young people - as they’re developing their skills. And she always says to me, “just imagine – if we can help them to develop that skill and they use it their whole life – imagine how useful that’s going to be.” And so that gives you a great sense of achievement.
What if my problem is… I don’t think is a serious one. I’m just a little bit stressed out. Is that okay to go to a triage appointment for?
Sure, because I suppose that what we know is that when we are highly stressed then we have a lot of difficulty with our concentration and our focus. That can really affect your studies. And so we think that it’s really good for people to come and talk when they’re feeling stressed, so that they can work out what are the strategies that they have already, and how they can use them to best help themselves.
On the other end of the spectrum, what if I’m very, very distressed? What if I’m having, for example, suicidal thoughts or ideation?
So if it’s a new thing, then you’ll do some assessment around whether you feel that you are going to be able to be safe. And if you don’t feel that you can be, then the triage worker will assist to get some more acute supports for you. We could give the student a safety planning tool that they use. And then what you do is you’d fill that in about who are your support people, what are the things that might make it more risky, and then who are the people that you could call on.
music: lounge piano and beats
What I guess some of the most common issues that you’re faced with?
All right, so sometimes, I talk about the three Ps. So what we see: perfectionism, so sometimes people have got really high standards of themselves, they worry they’re going to disappoint other people.
This can often lead to people deciding “urgh”, and procrastinate. And then after prolonged procrastination comes panic, because it’s like “everything’s due, I don’t know how I’m going to manage, I’ve left it too late.” Sometimes some negative talking to yourself about you know, that you’re lazy, all those kinds of things makes you feel bad.
So, I would say that negative feelings about oneself in relation, I suppose, to trying to pursue life goals is one of the common things we see.
What about if I’ve gone out on the weekend and taken a lot of drugs, and it’s now Tuesday and I’m coming to see you, I’m feeling really low. What would you say to me then? Will I get in trouble?
It’s a common experience that young people might experiment with drugs. So sometimes, as a side effect of that, people might have increase in anxiety. Or they might find that their mood drops a bit after they’ve had drugs. And so we just applaud them for coming to get support at that time.
music: dreamy soundscape
It’s a nice vibe here. The waiting room wasn’t awkward, and Christine’s cool. I’m glad I came.
So, after the triage appointment, most people come back to see the counsellors again. Luckily, the wait time isn’t very long.
It does depend on the time of the year. In the busy time, it could be up to two weeks, but generally it would be within a week.
And what if my issue seems super urgent to me? What if I can’t wait that long? What do I do?
So I suppose that that’s for you to say at the triage appointment as well. Sometimes the sessions are all booked out. So in that circumstance, what we’ll do is we’ll book you another 30 minute triage appointment, so that you get a little bit of time in between when your appointment’s scheduled and when you had the triage appointment.
So you’ll leave your triage appointment with a plan. It might be a follow up appointment with a counsellor to keep talking it out. Or it might also be an appointment with a GP. A GP can refer you on to see a psychiatrist if they think you might need a diagnosis or medication. Or they can also write you a mental health care plan so you can see a clinical psychologist for more structured therapy.
And how many sessions would I get if I’ve been referred on to a clinical psychologist?
So there is a mental health care plan that can be completed by the GP. And that entitles people to six to 10 sessions with a clinical psychologist through Medicare, and in our service we bulk bill them.
So what does bulk bill mean?
It means that Medicare pay the provider a certain amount of money to see you and that that money totally covers the cost of you seeing the person. So the money comes from Medicare, not from you.
So it’s kind of free.
It’s free. Okay. Love that. Okay, cool and I get six bulk billed sessions with a clinical psychologist with my mental health care plan a year.
So six to 10.
Okay. And how do I get the other four?
So, the psychologist needs to recommend that you require the extra sessions.
Okay cool. Cool.
music: laidback trip hop
Hopefully this makes sense. The point is, from that first triage appointment, which you just rock up to the clinic for, a plan will be put in place to get you feeling loads better. And the plan isn’t one size fits all. There are a team of experts at your fingertips and your triage worker will figure out with you what is going to work the best. Now, back to my questions.
I think a lot of people worry about whether or not they’re going to get along with who they talk to. Obviously, you’re opening up about some personal shit. What would you say to someone who was worried about that?
I think that it’s important to know that you can decide that it’s not working out with that person. And then you just request for a change. Just say “look, I’ve been I’ve been seeing Christine, but we’re not gelling very well, and I was just wondering whether I could be allocated another clinician.”
But what if I’m worried I’m going to hurt their feelings?
I think that it’s important to know that sometimes two people they just don’t gell with each other, and that that’s fine, and that the nurses are professionals, and that happens in all kinds of counselling contexts.
What if I rock up to Wellbeing, have my triage appointment, and then just freak out. “This is too much. This is too intense. I’m out”, and I walk out the door. Could I do that?
Sure. I mean, it’s a voluntary service. If you had come to the service and you’d said that you were going to kill yourself, and that you just took off, well, then the mental health nurse team would take an action, because there would be considered to be great risk. But if you just said, “look, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to talk about these things”, that’s your prerogative. And we would say, “if you change your mind again, just come back.”
So will anybody know what I talked about in this session?
So I think that it’s important for students to know that what they talk about is confidential.So, clinical notes are taken in the session, and so other members of the counselling team would have access to those clinical notes. As far as to anyone else, no it’s not available to anyone else.
There are some limits to confidentiality as far as we’re concerned. So if you were to disclose to me that you intended to kill yourself, or to harm another person, then I would be obligated to make a report. If you reported to me that there was a minor who was at great risk from somebody in the household, then there may be a requirement for me to make a notification to child protection.
music: downbeat house
My last question is: there’s still so much stigma around seeking help, and it does seem really scary. So what would you say to me or someone like me who’s not yet sought help because they think that it’s shameful or scary to access support?
So I would say “be brave.” Because you do have to be brave when you feel vulnerable to tell someone that you feel vulnerable. That to get support is for you to be proactive in your own life.
That more people then you realise, do get support. And so sometimes talking just amongst your own friendship group, it might be, you know, important to listen that other people actually get support too.
Many students come here and we say “how was it you came?” and one of their student friends said, “look, I go to Wellbeing for counselling. Why don’t you try it?”
Thank you for talking to me today, Christine. I feel like I understand the system and the process so much better.
It was my pleasure.
SFX: Hannah leaving the room
Feeling pretty good about all that. Kind of wish I was still a student so I could use this.
So just one more time for those in the back:
music: playful hip hop
If you’re a Swinburne student you get access to six sessions per semester with a counsellor. Rock up at the clinic, and book ‘em in with the triage worker.
If you feel like you need to see a clinical psychologist or a psychiatrist, see the GP and get referred. Your sessions with a psychologist are bulk billed with a mental health care plan. There is a bit of a cost with the psychiatrist, but it is wayyyyy more affordable than seeing one off-campus.
Important note, if you’re an international student, you can still access all these services, but the clinical psych will be paid for through your overseas health cover. Depending on your provider, you may have to pay the whole fee up front and then get reimbursed. And you also might not get reimbursed for all of it. You’ll generally not be out of pocket too much, but best to check with your provider first.
So if you’re in need of any type of help and support in regards to your physical and mental health and wellbeing, then come to Level 4 in the George Building if you’re at Hawthorn, CA130 if you’re at Croydon, or WA121 for Wantirna.
Don’t put it off. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health, so treat it like a broken leg and get onto that shit. While you’ve got access to some amazing health and wellbeing professionals, soak it up, people.
Thanks to Christine Sheahan for her time, and for speaking with me about everything on offer to Swinburne students.
If you or anyone you know is in need of support, help is close by.
If you’re in urgent need of assistance, contact Triple 0, Lifeline on 131 114, or the Suicide Help Line on 1300 651 251.
In addition to everything I’ve just learnt about, there’s also an after-hours crisis phone service that Swinburne run that is available every day of the year, even weekends and public holidays, 5pm to 9am. Call 1300 854 144 or SMS 0488 884 145.
We’ll chuck all this info into the show notes.
You may also like to go and do something nice for yourself, like watch a cat video, eat some superfoods, or go do some exercise.
If you or someone you know is in need of help, please reach out. There are no stronger people out there than those that can put up their hand and say they need help.
All right, that’s it. Use the free stuff.
The Things I’ve Thought is a Swinburne University of Technology initiative, produced by Sam Loy and me, Hannah McElhinney, with sound design and mixing by Tiffany Dimmack, and executive produced by Clare Monte, May Ling Yong, Douglas Pope, and Kate Montague.
Special thanks to Jonathan Lang in the Swinburne media department, and Jess O’Callaghan.
More The Things I've Thought podcast episodes:
Episode 1 — Marcus
Not a puddle of glitter.
Episode 2 — Luisa
A burning building no one else can see.
Episode 3 — Adrian
Metalhead in space.
Episode 4 — Brooke
Walking along the pixels.