Voice hearers are among the most disadvantaged groups in Australian society, suffering low levels of education; high unemployment; poverty; social isolation; stigma and discrimination, and unstable housing.
Voice hearers one of the largest groups served by Prahran Mission in Melbourne’s inner south-east, which has worked to improve the quality of life for people living with mental distress for more than 65 years. Prahran Mission has been running Hearing Voices groups for four years having learned about similar services overseas. The organisation is now offering support and training to other agencies across Victoria in order to set up similar groups and aims to coordinate an extensive network of peer groups.
This project sought to build a large body of volunteer peer workers and leaders to support the long term sustainability of the network and develop groups to provide opportunities for people from culturally diverse backgrounds to explore their experience of voice hearing within their own cultural context and to include families/carers and mental health professionals in the development of these groups.
Another important element of the project involved addressing stigma and discrimination through a range of activities, including media interviews, and holding information events in local communities in metropolitan and regional Victoria.
The ultimate aim of the project was to reduce the distress, stigma and socio-economic disadvantage for this group of people, through broad social inclusion, peer leadership, culturally sensitive approaches.
The success of self-run peer-supported groups is based on the shared experience between facilitators and participants. This shared experience fosters a sense of community and an acceptance that would otherwise be difficult to achieve in more mainstream mental health services. The social and emotional progresses of the participants are based on this acceptance. This is the major strength of this program and the basis of a successful model that could easily be replicated (as demonstrated by the formation of additional groups).
Prahran Mission has successfully supported the consolidation of the St Kilda group where four participants have been trained to become facilitators. An additional five groups have been formed within the Voices group based in Footscray, in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
Nine volunteers have also been supported to work on the programs; all these volunteers have previously experienced auditory hallucinations. Volunteers have reported an increased sense of self-esteem, confidence and social engagement, which in some cases has resulted in opportunities of further training or employment.
The training program delivered by Voices Vic has been highly successful and courses are in high demand and almost at capacity. Voices Vic plans to expand the training program - employing another voice hearer to fill this role.
The program is focused on the training of participants of already established groups and to bring them to a level where they can comfortably become facilitators. Understandably this takes time given that all participants and future facilitators have had experience of auditory hallucinations.
This was not simply just a successful program, but a starting point for a model of service delivery that is proving to be an effective mental health service, that can be replicated throughout Victoria and throughout Australia.
For further information on this program, see the Prahran Mission website.
Author: Dr Alberto Furlan, Program Manager