A mental health worker from Queensland says in the leadup to RUOK? Day on September 14, stopping to have a conversation with the homeless can have a huge impact on their wellbeing.
Cristel Simmonds from headspace, a mental health service aimed at young people, recently volunteered at a fundraising event supporting the homeless, who according to Mental Health Australia, have a much higher incidence of mental illness than the rest of the population.
She said people could become homeless very quickly due to a number of reasons.
“It could be drugs and alcohol, it could be domestic violence, it could be financial or a quick shift in employment situations,” she said.
“It does affect people of all ages, there are children as young as 10, 11 or 12 who are sleeping on the streets at times.
“From the people I meet out on the street, most of them are just looking for someone to talk to; a lot of them are alone.
“They do not often have a chance to open up and discuss and just let the weight off their shoulders and sometimes all they need is just someone to talk to.”
According to the 2013 Primary Health Care Atlas the Wide Bay region in Queensland ranks top in Australia for the incidence of mood disorders and third for depression prevalence, when compared to 61 health regions across Australia.
The Wide Bay also has a high hospitalisation rate for self-harm and injury.
It’s also ranked second for high or very high psychological distress, which can make it difficult for people to go to work, participate in social activities, or find stable housing.
Homelessness is not house-less-ness
Ms Simmonds said it was a common misconception that homeless people did not have a home to go to.
“It is not just the people who sleep rough on the streets and I think for a lot of people that’s what they see homelessness as,” she said.
“Homelessness is actually a lot broader than that — 48 per cent of women sleeping on the streets are those affected by domestic violence, and there are a lot of women and children sleeping in their cars.
“Overcrowded accommodation is also considered a form of homelessness so it is really when something is not safe, it is not suitable and it is not secure.”
Ms Simmonds helped organise a recent a fundraising event to upgrade shower and laundry facilities at a homeless service provided by the Anglican Church.
“Being able to upgrade these facilities will be really supporting those who are living on the streets and struggling,” she said.
Becoming an R U OK? champion
To highlight the impact of mental illness, the R U OK? conversation convoy is on a six-week journey across the country.
The goal is to talk about the four steps to a conversation: empowering people to ask, listen, encourage action, and check in.
Bundaberg youth development officer Andrea Bax hoped more people across the country could become an R U OK? champion.
“Being a champion does not mean that you have signed up for four hours of your life every week,” she said.
“It is more around some people attending the R U OK? workshops to increase their knowledge to be able to ask and have those conversations with their family, their friends, and in their workplace.”
“And it is something we could all do, asking somebody are you ok just let them know that somebody is actually there for them.”
This piece by Zoe Mears was first seen on ‘ABC News’ 5 September 2017.