The Station Community Mental Health Centre Inc: nurturing and empowering
Citation: Taylor J, Jones RM, O'Reilly P, Oldfield W, Blackburn A. The Station Community Mental Health Centre Inc: nurturing and empowering. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2010; 10: 1411. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=1411 (Accessed 1 June 2016)
Introduction: Consumer-driven community mental health services play an important role in rehabilitation, recovery, and advocacy in rural and remote Australia. The origins of services often lie in the need to provide options for people with mental illness and their carers when there is a lack of on-the-ground support. This article adds to the information about the strengths and limitations of consumer-driven mental health services by presenting the findings of an evaluation of The Station Inc. in rural South Australia. This consumer-driven mental health service provides a safe and supportive environment, social connections, and activities for its members (those with a lived experience of mental illness). Using a realist evaluation approach, the evaluation identified the contextual factors and the program mechanisms that produce positive outcomes for members.
Method: The evaluation was conducted as participatory action research with The Station members, volunteers, management committee members, and staff involved in all phases of the research process. Because of the complexity of The Station’s functioning a realist evaluation using qualitative data was conducted to identify how the program worked, for whom, and in what circumstances. Twenty-five in-depth interviews were conducted with participants who were randomly selected from within the groups identified above. Interviews focused on The Station’s role in assisting recovery from mental illness, the limitations and strengths of the program, and relationships with the mental health system. The Station’s goals, policies and procedures, and the role of stakeholders were analysed in order to identify any links among these contextual factors, program mechanisms, and program outcomes. Qualitative data were entered into descriptive categories in N6 software (QSR; www.qsr.international.com). Data from the stakeholder analysis were entered into Microsoft Excel. Using an iterative approach to include the three data sets, a model was developed that identified important contextual factors that linked with two groups of program mechanisms that produced positive outcomes for members.
Results: Program mechanisms are categorised by descriptive themes referred to as ‘nurturing’ and ‘empowering’. Nurturing’ is experienced as feeling of belonging and being accepted ‘as one is’ and ‘empowerment’ mechanisms engender a belief in oneself. Respondents identified features of The Station’s program, policies, atmosphere, connections and networks, stakeholder relationships, and staff and volunteers that are nurturing and empowering. Five key contextual factors enable the program mechanisms to work. The Station’s coordinators ensure that nurturing and empowerment processes are highlighted through careful facilitation. The governance arrangements, policies, and administrative systems at The Station are well developed but flexibly implemented so that they support the nurturing and empowerment processes. Support and legitimacy for the program is obtained from the mental health system at state and local levels. The Station obtains resources and connections to its rural community through key stakeholders and a peak organisation One Voice Network acts as an advocate.
Conclusions: Information about the benefits and limitations of consumer-driven mental health services in rural and remote Australia is in short supply. Increasing the available information about the contribution these services make may result in services being legitimised, understood, and resourced within mental health systems thus making the services sustainable. The benefits of consumer-driven services are that they provide flexibility and adaptation, an ability to capture the energy and passion of rural communities to improve the wellbeing of community members, and they overcome the power differential that exists between professionals and ‘patients’ or ‘clients’.
Key words: Australia, community mental health, consumer-run organisation, evaluation, participatory action research.
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