Mirani MP Jim Pearce, who has battled with mental health issues, says he'll back any move to get more help for people suffering mental health in regional Queensland, and further afield.
Mirani MP Jim Pearce, who has battled with mental health issues, says he'll back any move to get more help for people suffering mental health in regional Queensland, and further afield. CHRIS ISON

Labor MP opens up about his own mental health battle

MIRANI MP Jim Pearce has spoken openly about his own struggles with mental health, following the launch of a petition to get more counsellors working in Sarina.

Mr Pearce, who is based in Sarina, said he believes there's a lack of skilled mental health professionals working across Australia, not just in the town, and he'll back any petition or course of action to see that change.

"I don't think there's a proper understanding of the real need for mental health practitioners. There's a shortage right across the country," he said.

"Myself, I've suffered a breakdown as a result of a mental health issue and I know what people go through. I have a good understanding of what people experience and the things they'd like to see happen, like having somebody to put them on the right track, to access the right medical advice.

"I was in a real mess in 2009 and I have struggled to fully recover ever since. It's a tough world to be in when you're battling a mental health issue."

Mr Pearce said the Sarina community, and those further afield, needed to start talking more openly about mental health to continue reducing stigma.

"If people are silent, the best thing they can do is start talking about it. It's the best step forward," he said.

Mr Pearce, said he'd like to speak to the creator of the online and paper petition, Melissa Place, to discuss the issue further.

I'd like to have Melissa to come along to my office and speak to me about this. I haven't yet read the petition, but I'm willing to support anything we can do to improve access to mental health services for people," he said.


Sarina's Melissa Place with her daughters Zoe Place, 10, Crystal Place, 16, and Tiarna Stevenson, 15. Mrs Place wants to see more mental health counsellors, particularly for young people, based in the town south of Mackay.
Sarina's Melissa Place with her daughters Zoe Place, 10, and Crystal Place, 16, and friend Tiarna Stevenson, 15. Mrs Place wants to see more mental health counsellors, particularly for young people, based in Sarina. Contributed

Sarina mum launches petition for more counsellors in the town

SUICIDE and mental health issues are all too common in Sarina, says a mum from the town, who wants to see more counsellors working in the area.

Melissa Place has lived in Sarina for almost 20 years and believes there's been a significant rise in residents - particularly young children and teenagers - living with mental health problems.

"There's been a lot of suicides in recent years. And it's not out there. People don't hear it's happening. Unless it's happening in your friend or family circle," she said.

"My 11-year-old daughter came home from school the other week and said her friend's aunty took her own life. So kids this age are hearing this ... they need to be able to discuss these things with proper counsellors. To know why people are hurting themselves and why that needs to be prevented and that there is help available."

Mrs Place has launched a petition, both paper and online, calling for headspace or other organisations to increase their presence in Sarina and other towns in the Mackay region.

She believes the Sarina Youth Centre could provide an excellent headquarters for counsellors, making it easier for kids to drop in for a chat, rather than travelling north to Mackay.

"These kids in Sarina just don't get enough help. And families. They just need more professional support from counsellors," she said.

"We've had a lot more suicides (in recent years). And while you've got Sarina, you've also got other towns like Carmila, Koumala and other towns in the range. You've got a lot of places and children with very little professional help at all.

"We all get referred to headspace Mackay. I've rang headspace and they've had a discussion with me, saying they don't come out to Sarina. But you've got parents working long hours, in mining, or normal jobs going to 5pm. It can be hard for working families to get their kids up there.

"I've spoken to the headmasters (principals) at Sarina State High School and Sarina State School and they've said they're going to be writing letters saying we do need counsellors in Sarina."

Mrs Place said she'd love to see headspace Mackay make regular trips to Sarina, or for another counselling service to set up in the town.

She called on politicians in the Mackay region and members of the Sarina community, as well as other towns south of Mackay, to get on board with the idea.

"I think most people recognise there's a problem, but no one has really spoken up about it. And I think it's time to speak up," she said.

"I've been here 18 years, I'll probably be here for another 18 years and I've got my daughter about to start high school soon. And I need to help everyone sort this all out, with the schools."

The principals of Sarina State School and Sarina State High School have been contacted for their opinion on the situation.

We've also contacted headspace Mackay for comment.


FACEBOOK CAN HELP: Australia should be following in America's footsteps, with facebook councelling available over 'chat' the next mission for Lifeline. Photo Georja Ryan/Warwick Daily News
Sarina residents have taken to Facebook to call for more mental health counsellors in Sarina and other towns south of Mackay. Georja Ryan

Mental illness in Sarina - in your words

Sarina residents have contacted the Daily Mercury about their personal battles with mental health. While they've shared their stories, they did ask to remain anonymous.

More than a dozen Sarina residents have also spoken out via Facebook, backing the need for more counsellors in the town.

Case Study 1

"I have severe depression and anxiety and also suffer from OCD.

"I am on medication for these afflictions and have regularly visited psychologists as part of my mental health plan. The problem is that most of the mental health professionals operate from Mackay.

"While I have access to my own car, there are days where the thought of a trip to Mackay is enough to bring on a severe anxiety attack (hard to explain to someone who doesn't suffer with anxiety and depression.) Sarina is in desperate need of mental health professionals, what if someone doesn't drive, or have access to a vehicle?

"Mental health sufferers already have such low self esteem and a stigma associated with them, without having to travel to see someone who can help.

"My partner is aware of my illness but I try to play it down to my children. I know it's irrational but I don't want people to think they're dealing with a head case."

Case Study 2

"I'm in my 40s and have mental health issues - anxiety, panic attacks and previous depression. The facilities for those with these silent illnesses is very minimal.

"If you go to the hospital you are sent to Mackay (a family member drives me there).

"If you want to speak to a counsellor you have to wait long periods of time or go to Mackay and if, like me, your fear prevents you from driving then you have to rely on others which takes away the feeling of freedom and pushes you further back.

"I had a late term miscarriage before Christmas, which has pushed me back again. But thanks to the love and support of family and friends I am still doing okay.

About 18 months ago I had considered suicide. So from my point of view the professional support in Sarina has room for improvement."

Need help? Phone Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, beyondblue on 1300 224 636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Parentline on 1300 301 300.

Want to have your say? Contact the reporter Luke Mortimer at luke.mortimer@dailymercury.com.au, or text 0438 961 712.