Brainstorm provides community, conversation and change to mental health care services

Julie O’Halloran and Javier Serrano from Brainstorm Mid North Coast.

BRAINSTORM Mid North Coast is a non-profit community group in Coffs Harbour for people with lived experience of mental health conditions.

Family members or carers are also welcome.

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It’s emerging as a small force within the community since it was formed in 2016.

The mental health consumer advocacy group’s main aim is to improve service delivery in the region, Brainstorm Mid North Coast (BMNC) spokesperson Julie O’Halloran told News Of The Area

The group meets once a month and would value more people in the community to come for coffee, cake and a chat.

“Living with a mental health condition can be isolating, and coming together with others in the community who understand what it’s like can help in recovery as well as provide information, inclusion and support,” said Julie.

“We focus on making changes in mental health care policies and programs through advocacy based on our own lived experiences.

“We ‘brainstorm’ ideas and discuss responses to current or emerging issues of interest in the mental health care sector,” she said.

The informal meetings are inclusive and non-judgemental, where people can openly discuss issues affecting their access to and experience of mental health care services, or topics that interest them in that area.

“We combine our voices to make written submissions or give feedback to Inquiries or committees when they arise.”

Brainstorm MNC has been involved in consultations around the refurbishment of the mental health unit at Coffs Harbour Base Hospital, has participated in various research projects, had input into reviews like the Productivity Commission Inquiry, and the current NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into mental health services.

The purpose of the group is to effect positive changes in mental health services, using members’ own experiences to improve things for others.

The voice of those with lived experience is crucial in this process.

“We want to speak up, advocate for changes in the system, and make a difference so that others are better served in the future.

“A regional focus is important as we have different needs and different circumstances to those who live in metropolitan areas.

“We want to promote the rights of those with mental health conditions, improve the delivery of services and make them more responsive to the needs of those living with these conditions and their carers/families,” said Julie.

While making changes to the system can take time, members also try to make small changes in people’s lives by providing care packs to patients on discharge from the local mental health unit and hosting fortnightly morning teas there to reduce stigma and offer support.

“We have provided around 1,000 packs since we started.”

The emergency food and hygiene care packs, funded by the Pink Ladies Auxiliary, is a practical support when people leave the hospital and return home.

“Going home can be really disorientating and unsettling, and these packs mean that people don’t need to worry about what to eat if they have nothing in the cupboard.

“If there isn’t a support network for someone at home, it can be very tough.

“We know what it’s like, and it’s a small gesture to show we understand, and we care.”

The pack includes an information brochure about local mental health and welfare services, as it can be overwhelming navigating the system while recovering.

While members provide personal support and friendship to each other, it is not a support group.

“Establishing a peer run support group in Coffs Harbour was one of our goals, so it’s great that one has recently started.

“The Banksia Group runs every second Wednesday from 1.30pm – 2.30pm in the Wombat Room at the Neighbourhood Centre.”

Brainstorm MNC encourages the community to share details of the group to friends or relatives who have a mental health condition and may be interested in stepping into the advocacy arena and speaking up as someone with lived experience, or join in for social reasons.

Any additional information on local services for the brochures is also welcome.

See Brainstorm Mid North Coast Facebook page for details on the meeting day, time and place for next year, or on instagram @brainstorm.midnorthcoast, or email to be put on the mailing list.


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