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stability and security – the right ingredients for young peoples’ recovery from mental illness

Coorah*, a young woman from country Victoria, entered the cohealth Youth Residential Program when she was just 18 years old. Having lived in either kinship or foster care since an early age, Coorah lacked the strong support network needed to address and overcome her significant challenges. Despite this, she is now on the road to recovery thanks to the guidance and support she received during her time in the program.

Referred to the Youth Residential program after fleeing emotional, financial and physical partner violence and sexual assault, Coorah had been receiving psychiatric treatment since the age of 12 for self-harm and depression. A formal diagnosis of schizophrenia and anxiety disorder was made when she was 15 years old. On entering the program she was assessed as having low self-esteem, poor living skills, limited ability to manage her mental health and no social connections in Melbourne.

Coorah worked hard to achieve her goals. After 12 months in the program for she had managed to complete many of her goals including abstaining from self-medicating via cannabis use and self-harming as a form of coping; disengaging from criminal behavior; managing her anger more appropriately and dealing with conflict in an assertive manner.

Having successfully transitioned out of the program without a decline in her mental health, Coorah was able to secure an affordable one-bedroom private rental flat. She also received a job trial within less than two weeks of living in the new area. Coorah reported that she was “… thankful for the help the cohealth program gave her in developing the skills and confidence she needed to be more independent” and she “… has a better sense of herself, has made some friends and has developed a sense of hope for her future.”

cohealth’s Youth Residential and Youth Support Service is responsible for delivering programs that assist some of the community’s most vulnerable people. It plays an integral role in the lives of many young people at risk of falling through the cracks in the system.

Young people in the program present with everything from issues with self-esteem and relationships to difficulties regulating emotion and behaviour.  Compounding these challenges, many of the young people in the program also live with a significant mental illness and have experienced trauma, problematic substance use and homelessness.

Facing such formidable challenges at a young age can be extremely confronting yet many young people in the program have managed to begin the recovery process and experience the positive outcomes that come with participating in the program.

Billy McCabe, Practice Manager at Youth Residential and Youth Support Services in Reservoir believes that a stable, secure living environment is key to assisting young people like Cooorah on the road to recovery. “Young people in our program tell us that without a safe and stable living environment where the right support is available, recovery is close to impossible. Most young people in our program talk about how negatively mental illness can impact the things that are linked to wellbeing like being able to look after yourself; make friends, be heard, and reclaim meaning in life. Without a program like ours and the support it provides, young people say that life becomes just about survival with no room for recovery,” says Billy.

With mental illness increasingly affecting many young people, services like cohealth’s Youth Residential and Youth Support Services are facing strong demand, with the number of young people awaiting placement via the external intake and assessment function growing.

Many young people can slip through the cracks due to the stigma traditionally associated with seeking assistance for mental health issues, yet Billy McCabe contends that cohealth has played a part in reducing this stigma. “We know that our program and cohealth mental health services have been influential in reducing the stigma associated with youth mental health. However, we still have a long way to go and sadly many young people who would find value in our services are not seeking our support due to stigma,” says Billy.

Despite the challenges associated with working with at-risk youth living with mental illness, the cohealth team derive satisfaction from working with young people like Coorah. “Supporting at-risk young people on their recovery journey by coaching them in ways to explore their strengths and use them to achieve goals and overcome barriers is extremely rewarding. Seeing how this effort leads to increased wellbeing and better health outcomes provides our team with a great sense of achievement,” says Billy.

* Name has been changed.

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