CHILDREN and adolescents with acute mental health problems are travelling to Orange from as far away as the Queensland, Victorian and South Australian borders to seek specialist care at the Wollemi Unit in Orange in an environment unique in the state.
Clinical co-ordinator of the program, Sharon Jones, has worked in mental health for 20 years and says she has never seen anything like the level of care that is now afforded children and young people grappling with mental health problems.
“I think these problems have always been there with young people, it’s just that they weren’t recognised in the past as being linked to mental health.
“Often children or young people were just perceived to be naughty,” she said.
Ms Jones said although parents often have to travel hundreds of kilometres to access the specialist services in Orange it is an environment that parents prefer, rather than seeking treatment in Sydney.
The child and adolescent inpatient unit in Orange opened in 2011 and is co-located with the paediatric unit and the outpatient service and as a declared mental health facility the inpatient care is provided for 12 to 17 year olds who are either voluntary or involuntary.
Ms Jones said a complex system of partnerships among healthcare providers is based around the region covered using tools such as audio visual links back to Orange and within other parts of the region.
“Our service has grown exponentially in the last few years compared to 20 years ago,” she said.
Ms Jones says the model of care which is now based out of Orange was years in the planning.
“Going right back to the early days when the new hospital was first being planned along with Bathurst,” Ms Jones said.
“Prior to the services we offer out of Wollemi Unit here in Orange kids would have just had to go to Sydney for their treatment,” she said.
Young people who are inpatients or part of the day programs are provided with educative support by Department of Education and Communities employees including the district guidance officer, a teacher and a teacher’s aide who are responsible for liaising with schools and devising plans to foster a safe transition back to school.
“For most of the young people when they are able to participate, a proportion of the day will be spent undertaking school studies at the Wollemi learning centre situated at Pine Lodge.” Ms Jones said.
Ms Jones said with some families having to travel up to 10 hours to access the Wollemi Unit usually one parent can accompany a young person to Orange.
“While mental health problems affect 20 per cent of young people 12 - 17, the majority of whom can be treated in the community, an element of stigma still exists and the fact that a child or young person requires admission can be somewhat distressing for the young person or their family,” Ms Jones said.
“So we are thrilled that the Orange Ronald McDonald House has included the accommodation of families whose child requires inpatient mental health treatment - a first in this country,” she said.