Open letter to St Vincent’s Mental Health

Open letter to St Vincent’s Mental Health (SVMH) Acute Inpatient Service (AIS)

Trigger Warning: Suicide – Sexual Assault

Dear St Vincent’s Mental Health Acute Inpatient Service (AIS)

I write this letter to thank you for saving my life

I write this letter as a public letter, as I only hope it serves more than its intended purpose of thanking a team of superheroes.

I remember this time last year, scrolling through my social media and seeing advertisements’ advising us to take care of our mental health during the covid-19 pandemic and during the experience of a lock-down. I only hope someone struggling stumbles across this letter and realises there is help, there is light at the end of the tunnel and you are not weak for crumbling amongst the pressures and the fears of the unknown.

It has been 208 days since I was discharged from the AIS. I have thought for months on end how I could possibly thank the team of superheroes, who work around the clock attending to the needs of vulnerable members of our community. This letter is to the Doctors, Nurses, Psychiatrists, Social Workers, Aboriginal Liaison Officers, Security Staff and Cleaners.

In April 2020, Victoria was a month into lock-down, I was at the time 26 years old and a kinship carer to my 10-year-old nephew. I worked in the family violence sector and held many roles within the Victorian Aboriginal Community. Most importantly at this time, I was a sister and an aunty, to my sister who (during lockdown) was forced to flee family violence in the middle of the night with her four young children. Over-night our house went from myself and one child – to a house of three adults and five children.

The days were long and as lock-down continued, they only felt longer. Support services felt minimal, we were not thriving during this incredibly challenging time in our lives and unbeknownst to me, burn-out was lingering and when it finally hit, it hit hard.

In October 2020, Victoria was around 5 months into lock-down. For me at that time I attempted suicide. Prior recent traumas finally took a hold of me, I was burnt out, I felt alone, I felt unable to concentrate, I lost motivation in my work and other community commitments, I had simply had enough. I often try and reflect on what lead me to this moment, but there is no single event that drastically catapulted me into this terrifying mental break-down. I felt alone, and yet I wasn’t.

Days following surviving my suicide attempt, I wasn’t okay, although was incredibly lucky to have had a long-term Doctor from the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service, who had gone above and beyond during lock-down to keep engaged with me. Due to my trust in this Doctor, I trusted the plans to have me admitted to the Mental Health Ward. I don’t remember the trip from regional Victoria to Melbourne, I just remember arriving there at night, I was terrified, my mind was flooded with the stereotypes of a mental health ward, mixed with anger that I was alive to bear witness to this experience.

The sun rose on my first morning there, I didn’t sleep that night, I was so unhappy, so scared and felt incredibly defeated.

That night was the beginning of a healing journey that has quiet literally saved my life, and a healing journey that (on reflection) was so incredibly needed.

As I sit here with tears rolling down my face, I will now begin my long awaited thank you to the St Vincent’s Hospital Mental Health Staff.

Thank you for never judging me, you never once gave into my stubbornness, instead persisted and forced me to reflect on why you weren’t giving up on me as easily as I had hope.

Thank you for holding space for me as I screamed and cried with upset and anger towards anyone that was playing role in keeping me alive.

Thank you for patiently earning my trust over long awaited days, rather than pushing me to open up when I wasn’t feeling ready to do so.

Thank you for the meetings that you hold every week, where you sit at the table in the art room with patients and hear our concerns and our ideas for activities. I took weeks to attend one of these, and once I did, I felt empowered.

Thank you for your understanding and respect towards my culture as an Aboriginal Woman, I felt so safe and understood.

Thank you to the one particular nurse for understanding my need for the smell of a particular essential oil to ease my anxiety, thank you for noticing when the smell was slowly going away and coming in with the spray bottle so attentively.

Thank you to all the night nurses, who cared so deeply about the restless legs I was suffering from. You went above and beyond with heat packs, herbal teas, weighted blankets and making me a bed in the tv area.

Thank you for making sure everything felt as ‘normal’ as possible within the walls of the ward, despite being in the thick of a global pandemic and an intense and long lock-down.

And finally, thank you to my psychiatrist, Dr A*. You are the reason I let my guard down and finally allowed myself to let go and safely fall apart into the arms of yourself and your team.

Thank you for holding me as I cried, for becoming the person I could confide in and open up to about being a victim/survivor of sexual assault.

Thank you for always reminding me that the sun would rise, some nights I didn’t believe you, but I was always wrong. The sun did always rise. It rose for the 74 mornings that I woke up to the superheroes’ that installed in me a new fight to survive my mental break down, and survive I have.

I have survived. After 6 months on leave, I now work fearlessly in the job I had loved, I now have the ability to be the Aunty my nieces’ and nephews so desperately needed me to be, their happy, healthy Aunty Sissy.

It didn’t matter about the amount of PPE everyone was wearing, the trust was built through the kindness of your actions, the smiling of your eyes and the tone of your voice.

There is no shame in seeking help if you are struggling – there are superheros waiting for you, I promise.

One thought on “Open letter to St Vincent’s Mental Health

  1. Yes I have had my visits to this ward. It provides a space for time out from the insane world to be with the sane. Where you can just be you where you don’t have to wear the mask anymore. We go in with our brokenness and bit by bit they put us back together. I also can’t speak highly enough of the VAHS team and how they fought for the beds for Koori clients. I continue my journey on the outside but its my VAHS team and my amazing Psychiatrist Dr K and those before him that continue to keep me well.


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