TINA Philip was farewelled in February after four decades working in mental health and said she maintained her compassion until the end. Originally a Bowral Hospital nurse, Ms Philip retrained after patients inspired her to consider mental health. “One was dying and he used to say he felt better after he had seen me,” she said. “I asked him ‘why?’He said, ‘because you talk to me about dying, but everyone else says you will be all right’. He was dying of cancer. I felt the psychological needs of medical patients were being neglected and psychiatry would be the go.” For 30 years of her career, Ms Philip based herself in Batemans Bay, with the Southern NSW Local Area Health Service. “I trained in Goulburn and in 1984 there was an opportunity for me to move to Batemans Bay and setup mental health services here,” she said. “There was a welfare officer and a part-time psychologist when I got here. There weren’t many mental health services at all.”She worked with just four mental health professionals. “Now there is a team of 17 to 20,” she said. “We expanded gradually. We have a child and adolescent team, an aged care mental health team, a couple of visiting psychiatrists, an adult mental health team and an acute care team.” Although Ms Philip found the job rewarding, she left because she did not agree with some changes. “Things that are recognised as useful for people with a mental illness are going out the window,” she said. “Services are now crisis driven and there is a push for you to see people quickly, for a short period of time, and then get them off your books. I don’t want to spend five minutes with someone and just skim the surface, when I should be seeing them for an hour.” The biggest battle of Ms Philip’s career was working in a system that was constantly changing, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
She said her biggest achievement was being able to maintain her integrity and commitment. “Without that, you may as well not be in the job,” she said. “It is the most important thing. People who work in mental health are in a very privileged position.” Her secret to maintaining compassion was thinking, ‘what if it was me or my family?’ “I was always thinking, ‘how would I want to be treated?’ or ‘how would I want my family to be treated?’,” Ms Philip said. “I always had respect, because the reality is, it could be me or someone I love.” Ms Philip said mental health was everybody’s business. “Everyone has some responsibility because it could be your neighbour, your colleague, your best friend,” she said. While many professionals helped Ms Philip throughout her career, she especially thanked her clients. “I am a better person for having met them,” she said. “Without listening to my clients and their families’ stories, I wouldn’t have been able to develop the compassion I have. Some of the stories I have heard made me think ‘that can’t be possible’.”
In the past five years, Ms Philip worked on training packages. “I have been recruited for a number of project positions because of my passion for mental health,” she said. “All of those received national awards and they were about improving services. My most recent challenge and highlight was being recruited by a national organisation to develop a training package for nurses and allied health in rural and remote areas. That was all over Australia. It was absolutely amazing. It was challenging, but I love training.” Ms Philip plans to travel, renovate her Lilli Pilli house and see more of her family. “I have also joined Sing Australia and would like to do more volunteering,” she said. “I have two kids, a son in Melbourne and a daughter in Sydney, and two grandkids to visit. We have lots of plans, but we are going to stay in the area. I love Batemans Bay.” She admitted her decision to retire was hard. “I will miss the client work, because that was what I was really passionate about,” she said. “But I won’t miss the system. I will miss colleagues who have become friends, but I will still see them.”
This article and image first appeared Bay Post, 6 March 2015.