Geraldton’s Step Up/Step Down Service returning “really positive outcomes” for local mental health

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
Geraldton Step Up/Step Down's Dean Ward, Natasha Martin, Patricia Councillor and Mark Cairn.
Camera IconGeraldton Step Up/Step Down's Dean Ward, Natasha Martin, Patricia Councillor and Mark Cairn. Credit: Pictures: Phoebe Pin and Geoff Vivian

Sometimes a change of scenery, a shoulder to cry on and some lessons in self-care are all that is required to improve mental health.

This is the approach taken by the Geraldton Step Up/Step Down service, which provides short-term residential mental health support for people who are becoming unwell and at risk of being admitted to hospital.

Those who are leaving hospital but are in need of extra support to transition back into the community can also self-refer for a stay at the 10-unit centre.

Opened in February, the service has so far provided a safe space for between 40 and 50 people over the age of 16 in need of a helping hand to get their mental health back on track.

Residents have a key to their unit — which includes a beautifully furnished bedroom, bathroom, fridge and washing machine — and are free to come and go from the centre to attend medical appointments, work, or other commitments.

Sometimes one of the biggest steps is just getting out of the environment they are in, because having a reprieve from that really helps their mental health when they have that space to heal.

Service manager Patricia Councillor said her team worked hard to create an environment conducive to improving residents’ wellbeing.

“Sometimes one of the biggest steps is just getting out of the environment they are in, because having a reprieve from that really helps their mental health when they have that space to heal,” she said.

Once residents arrive, they are given time to settle in before they are invited to participate in group activities like cooking, gardening, yoga, swimming, art therapy and community outings.

Senior practice leader Dean Ward said residents also learned basic life skills to help them transition back into the community after their stay.

“Some people don’t even know how to do basic cooking and when they leave here they know how to make themselves a feed and stop living off fast food,” he said. “They start to learn how to budget their money and just start to look at their lives differently.”

Mr Ward has experienced his own mental health challenges in the past, an experience which he said allowed him to better connect with centre residents.

“Over five years ago I was a consumer myself of Neami National mental health services and today I am sitting in a senior practice leader role... so the whole peer support approach really does work,” he said.

A typical stay at the centre lasts about 28 days, but operational support officer Mark Cairn said the team encouraged people to come back if they were in need of more assistance.

“They can come in with us, then later in the year they might return if they are feeling unwell or overwhelmed,” he said.

“There have been a few who have come back or who have brought in family members or friends after they have left.”

Community rehabilitation support worker Natasha Martin said she had seen some “really positive outcomes” over the past six months, and thought the Geraldton centre could set the standard for short-term residential mental health care.

“I’m hoping for everyone in Australia to come here to Geraldton Step Up/Step Down and say, ‘what are you doing right?’” She said.

Referrals can be made directly to the service by anyone in the community. This includes self-referrals, referrals by a family member or by community and health professionals with the consent of the individual.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails