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“We should not have to lose another life”: MP Phil Donato pleads for better mental health services

September 16, 2022

WARNING: This story mentions suicide. Helpline numbers are at the bottom of the story.


By Peter Holmes

Orange is a city with a lot of lonely men. Isolated men. Young men. Old men. Middle-aged men.

Men under pressure. Men who find it difficult to talk. To open up. To peel the Band-Aid off and inspect the injury.

Thousands of years of living a certain way is in the process of being unpicked and rewoven. It takes time. Years. Decades.

I wrote last month about Bruno Efoti, who runs Tradies in Sight. His story gives you hope.

State MP Phil Donato, who has made mental health a priority during his time in parliament, is also playing a role here.

Each month on a Sunday he hosts a barbecue for men at Cook Park [see Donato’s Facebook page for details].

“There are a lot of guys [in Orange] who are lonely, isolated, some guys have been through Family Court issues, been through the wringer and maybe fallen out with their children or family,” Donato told The Orange News Examiner on Friday.

“And during Covid people were stuck at home, they weren’t engaging with other people.”

At last Sunday’s barbecue about 35 men came along to eat and talk.

“It was terrific,” Donato said. “Probably about 15 or 20 of those blokes turn up every month, and I’ve seen over the last 18 months the confidence in these men grow, and the companionship and friendship.

“They were total strangers to each other when they first started coming. But through just chewing the fat at the barbecues, finding out how other people are going, what their circumstances are, providing a similar story to tell, or some support, it’s been really effective."

Donato said good friendships had been established by some of the men who attended the barbecues, and that they now meet up for a coffee or a chat between the barbecues.

“Blokes are notoriously bad at [talking], right?” he said. “Myself included. We’re not really good at expressing our emotions or opening up; we try and deal with our problems ourselves and think we should be able to take all this. But it’s not weak to speak.”

In recent months six people in Orange died by suicide. Donato said they were all men. Three were aged under 25, and three over.

The MP said wait times for people in Orange and surrounds to see a psychologist or psychiatrist were often far too long.

“When you’re acutely unwell, you want to have that prompt level of response - you don’t want to be told there is a six-month wait for a psychiatrist or a three-month wait to see a counsellor. That’s the last thing you want to hear.

“In this day and age in first world countries, it's not really acceptable.”

Donato is lobbying the minister for mental health, Bronnie Taylor MLC, to “urgently fund and support the establishment of a Safe Haven in Orange”.

“The rising rates of suicide only scream that its time the government do more for us here in our community, we should not have to lose another life due to access inequities,” he said.

Safe Haven is a non-clinical space with an open-door policy that is run by peer

workers with a lived experience of mental health.

“It offers a real and effective alternative to Emergency Departments, which as you know are already experiencing critical staffing shortages,” Donato said.

“There is no stigma, a level of tranquility involved, a homely environment and there are trained counsellors people can talk to. We need it locally as one of the tools in our tool box.”

There are Safe Havens in Parkes and Dubbo and Donato said that statistics show the service had reduced the number of people presenting to Emergency Departments by 30 percent.

“Statistics also show 34 percent of people would not have sought support elsewhere.

I call on the government to urgently provide appropriate funding and support of Safe

Haven in Orange to ensure important gaps are being filled in mental health support

services of the region and to reduce suicide rates.”

If this story has raised concerns for you, there are people you can talk to right now:

Lifeline: 13 11 14 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

Beyond Blue: 1300 224 636, (24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

eheadspace: Online and telephone support and counselling to young people 12 – 25 and their families and friends. 1800 650 890 (9am – 1am AEST, 7 days)

MensLine Australia: Professional telephone and online counselling service offering support to Australian men. 1300 789 978 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week, chat online or organise a video chat).

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