A safe haven for the mentally ill

One in five people struggles with mental health issues each year. Photo: Layla Smith.

Two Safe Haven Cafes will open in WA later this year to provide an alternative to hospital emergency departments for people with mental health problems.

The cafes will also provide after-hours, peer-based support for people with alcohol and other drug-related issues.

They are expected to open by mid-2020 at Royal Perth Hospital and Kununurra District Hospital.

A community event was held in February by Well-Rounded Co-Designers for the public to assist with the development of the Safe Haven Cafes.

Well-Rounded Director Tracy Wilson said it’s important for people dealing with severe psychological distress to have a place they can go where they feel safe and supported.

“ED’s do a great job at offering clinical support, but people with mental health illnesses need a human approach,” she said.

“The cafe will be a safe, comforting environment with couches and coffee and the necessary support these people need.”

“There are already Safe Haven Cafes in Melbourne and in the UK, so I’m looking forward to WA opening the doors to theirs too.”

According to the Sustainable Health Review, approximately 190,000 of the one million attendances to WA Emergency Departments (ED) in 2017–18 could potentially have been avoided with adequate treatment in mental health care.

The review said WA ED’s are not equipped, or in some cases, not trained to support people in need of mental health care.

Twenty-two-year old Laura (not her real name) has gone to emergency departments for her mental health issues in the past and said she didn’t feel as though mental health was being taken seriously.

“I think the café support would be a much better alternative because ED’s aren’t always a welcoming environment when you’re already feeling overwhelmed or having a panic attack,” she said.

“My boyfriend was having a severe panic attack once and he did end up getting heart scans, but we still had to wait in ED for over seven hours.”

“ED’s often segment peoples’ needs into high risk and low risk, it seems like mental health is usually labelled as low risk, even when dealing with suicide attempts.”

The McGowan government has allocated $700,000 in funding towards the operation of the two cafes.

Mental Health Minister Roger Cook said the state government is making high quality mental health care a priority.

“We know emergency departments are not always the best place for people with mental health issues who are experiencing distress,” he said.

“By providing more alternatives, people can receive care and assistance in an environment more suitable to meet their needs and get the right kind of help as early as possible.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, there is help: