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Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Step Up Step Down mental health facility opens

The first patients at the new Southside Community Step Up Step Down mental health facility in Garran take up residence today.

Six patients can stay for a fortnight, receiving sub-acute care, or if necessary, move to hospital. The facility also serves as a halfway house for hospital patients returning to the community. Psychosocial support is available on-site 24 hours a day, and clinical support seven days a week.

Emma Davidson, Minister for Mental Health, officially opened the facility on Friday.

Ms Davidson said almost one-third of Canberrans will need mental health support at some time; facilities like this can take the burden off hospitals, caring for patients before their mental health worsens.

A bedroom in the facility. Picture: Nick Fuller

She said investments in sub-acute services were part of the ACT Government’s commitment to shift the focus of mental health investment away from acute care and to provide care as early in someone’s illness or episode as possible.

“The Step Up Step Down is a best practice model,” she said. “It’s been proven to provide effective support for people with more intensive support needs in the community. It allows us to focus on prevention and recovery-focused care.”

The ‘Step Up’ element provides early intervention support as soon as a person becomes mentally unwell to prevent deterioration in their mental health and having to end up with a hospital or an acute, in-patient admission, Ms Davidson explained.

The ‘Step Down’ element provides transitional support for people leaving acute, mental health, inpatient units and returning to everyday life.

A bedroom in the facility. Picture: Nick Fuller

Canberra Health Services’ executive director of Mental Health, Justice Health, Alcohol and Drug Program, Karen Grace, said: “We’re less likely to see people rebounding back through the doors of the emergency department if they’re able to transition back to the community with the support of a facility like this.

“When they start to struggle, they need increased support, and that support has to be easy to access. If we make it too hard for people, they aren’t able to access the care – and then they’re likely to end up requiring an acute admission into one of our units,” Ms Grace said.

“The beauty of units like this is we can recognise deterioration early … Step Up Step Down provides people a safe place to access additional support and to get back to their baseline in order to continue their recovery.”

All is calm and soothing to heal shattered nerves and broken spirits. The impression is of light and air. The residents’ rooms overlook bushland; paintings of native flora and fauna hang over their beds; beach and mountain landscapes decorate the walls; and judiciously placed motivational statements are pinned up on cupboards. Residents (and visitors) can relax with colouring books, puzzles and board games, while stressed patients can centre themselves in a ‘safe space’ (with leather couches and a stuffed alpaca toy).

A bedroom in the facility. Picture: Nick Fuller

“When people come to stay here, even though it might only be for a couple of weeks, what happens here is crucial to their mental health and wellbeing,” Ms Davidson said.

“We really wanted to make sure that this is a space that feels like home, welcoming and comfortable, that they can invite their family and friends to come spend time with them here and make sure that when they come out, they’ve had a good experience.”

Stride, one of Australia’s longest-serving mental health providers, will manage the facility; their first venture in the ACT. Woden Community Service will provide outreach support to ex-patients for a month after they leave the facility, to help them transition back into the community.

The Garran facility is the fifth Step Up Step Down in Canberra; there are also five-bed services for adults in Lyneham and for children and adolescents in Watson, a six-bed service for youths and young adults in Kambah, and an outreach service for adults.

The facility is part of the ACT Government’s 2018/19 budget commitment of $22.8 million over four years to provide more supported accommodation for people with mental illness, Ms Davidson said. In February, Chief Minister Andrew Barr committed a further $15.8 million to meet increased demand for mental health services during the pandemic.

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