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Client story: putting empathy into practice

Caring for someone with a mental health disorder requires empathy and respect. Two people who know this well are Patrick and his mother, Rosemary.

Life has often been challenging for Patrick and his family. Due to a diagnosis of schizophrenia, Patrick relies on support for different aspects of daily living. Unfortunately, the care he received in the past was often short-term and inconsistent – a situation that created frustration and distress.

Prejudice is also another issue the family were sensitive to. Patrick’s mother Rosemary, who works in community care, is keenly aware of the stigma that can exist towards people with mental illness. She was determined to find a provider that was not only reliable, but also full of empathy and respect.

“In my line of work, I would hear people speaking in a thoughtless way about clients with mental illness,” she says. “We were really looking for someone who understood what it is like to have mental health issues.”

Thankfully, the care that Patrick and his family wanted was not far away.

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After being approved for an NDIS plan last year, Rosemary came across an online advertisement for HomeCaring Tweed Heads and Ballina. “I phoned them up and talked to the director, Dr Paul Master man,” say Rosemary. “As a clinical psychologist, he made everything easy, as we were talking to someone who had a real understanding of mental illness. Paul understood straight away what we’ve been up against. We could start planning for the future.”

Paul’s first step towards helping Patrick was to work with him – in consultation with Rosemary – to develop his own care plan.  This is an important process, as HomeCaring believes each person is an individual and their care should be unique. “For Patrick, this means the goals in his NDIS plan are the real guiding principles behind his care,” says Paul. “We always think about what’s best for Patrick: how he’s going to meet his goals.”

Paul provided Patrick with Melissa, a support coordinator whose role is to work closely with the client and ensure they receive the services they need. “Melissa met with us and talked to Patrick about the things he enjoys,” says Rosemary. “She doesn’t simply book him in a day center and expect him to do what everyone else does. Melissa asks, ‘Patrick what would you like to do? What can we organise for you?”

Patrick was also given two support workers, Karen and Mark. Karen helps Patrick with household chores, cooking, shopping and organisational tasks. They also enjoy chatting together over a cup of coffee. “They talk about all sorts of things. He really respects and admires Karen, which is great,” says Rosemary.

Mark helps Patrick get out in the community and participate in activities he enjoys, such as Healing Hooves (a local horse therapy program, see picture) and trips to the beach.

He is also helping Patrick plan a future trip to Brisbane, and he is looking forward to exploring parts of the city that interest him. For Patrick and his family, this is a significant goal. “Since he’s started his NDIS plan, Patrick has become more confident and maintained his independence,” says Paul.

Rosemary agrees. “They are helping him to live more independently, so I’m involved in his life, but not responsible,” she says. “I’m now able to look at stepping back, which is the great thing Melissa and her team have been able to provide (and they tell me when I’m doing too much!).

“The care is person-centered, and far more flexible than my experience at mainstream services because it’s based around Patrick. It’s made a huge difference to our lives.”

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