JOHN’S life was grey. The medication he took for severe schizophrenia made him numb. So he stopped taking it. Then the voices returned. He had to talk to them, he was compelled to. But when he responded he was taunted, or stared at, as he walked the streets of the eastern suburbs.

This scenario was presented to a recent shadow Cabinet meeting at Vermont South Community House. Eastern Region Mental Health Association chief executive officer Peter Waters, who related the story, leads one of several social service organisations thinking “outside the square” to help those, like John, in need.

Waters says ERMHA discussed reducing John’s medication with his psychiatrists and clinical providers in a bid to take away the numbness and reduce the auditory hallucinations. It couldn’t be done.

“So we gave John an old, dead mobile phone, that didn’t have a battery in it … and John now walks down the street with his mobile phone to his ear having a conversation with his auditory hallucinations and noone looks at John any more,” Waters says.

At the meeting, which included state Opposition leader Ted Baillieu, shadow ministers, the Reach Out For Kids Foundation (RoK), Eastern Access Community Health (EACH) and Eastern Domestic Violence Service (EDVOS), groups discussed their innovations and ever-growing needs.

RoK agency manager SuzanaMihajlovic says the foundation, which provides programs and counselling for parents and children in a range of different areas such as social and family connection and loss and grief, is now offering services specifically for fathers in the east.

“Dads are finding it difficult to relate to their kids, so we’re starting a media information campaign for dads just looking at strategies for parenting,” Mihajlovic says.

“A lot of dads today are feeling very disconnected from the family. They don’t know what their role is in the family; mum’s at home liaising with the kids, and dads are kind of feeling a bit left out,” she adds.

RoK believes there’s more that can be done.

“One of the major issues that families are having in this municipality – but I’d say everywhere – is just pressure from society, particularly economic pressure which often leads to family breakdown,” Mihajlovic says.

She says there’s a two to three-month waiting list for financial counsellors.

The Eastern Domestic Violence Service works with women in violent relationships, trying to help them without putting them in more danger by alerting the victim’s partners of their assistance.

The service’s constant creative thinking has helped workers’ approach to issues. Such an approach is taken when family pets come under threat in a family violence situation. EDVOS’s Julie Shackleford says the perpetrators of family violence will often threaten family members through threats to their pet.

“We have what’s called the Pets in Peril program that came into being about two years ago. And what we know is that one of the things that keep women in the relationship is threats to the pets,” she says.

“So pets are often an indicator of future violence, particularly towards children, and they are often a tool for violence.”

EDVOS works with an animal welfare centre at Coldstream where Pets in Peril are kept – for a minimum cost to families – while the woman decides what she wants to do. It takes some of the concerns of the woman out of the situation.

ERMHA’s Peter Waters says there are problems dealing with demands on its services. ERMHA has a six-month waiting list (for those aged 16-24) for early intervention in mental health issues.

New solutions: Team leader Jane Hancock with managers Bruce Watson, Chris Kotsonis and Karen King. Picture: Julie Bowyer