Reflex: Rapid response trauma counselling for Newcastle
While working in mental health consulting in the disability employment sector, counsellor Damien Southam saw gaping holes in the network. He made it his mission to start filling those holes by starting Reflex, a rapid response trauma counselling service.
"Current mental health and support services are often overstretched with long wait times which leave people by themselves in the vital first few days after a traumatic event," Damien said.
Damien looked to the Scandinavian model of care where people suffering from acute mental illness receive rapid support by ambulances dedicated solely to mental health care.
He is working to emulate this model in Australia through his mobile emergency trauma counselling service, Reflex. His charity provides support and educational resources throughout Newcastle and the Hunter Valley.
“We want more people at the coalface. We want a community where no one falls through the cracks,” he said.
Damien has a Diploma and Bachelor in Counselling and Trauma Response through the Australian College of Applied Psychology. He also completed further study with Richard Hill at the Mindscience Institute. He then went on to study a Graduate Diploma in Forensics at Griffith University. Damien worked as crisis counsellor and financial counsellor for three years before starting Reflex in 2015 with his business partner Alicia Sneller. Damien oversees the clinical and operations side while Alicia focuses on communications and technology.
Reflex started out doing consulting work for disability employment and community organisations but in more recent times they have truly begun to act as an acute service like Damien had always envisioned.
When Reflex receives a call for help, Damien triages the caller. If the situation is critical, he will aim to get to them immediately. His next step is to stabilise the situation and find out what their long-term needs are and support them for however many weeks or months it takes to ensure a referral network is pulled together for the patient.
“Reflex responds immediately, triages completely, then builds a support network for that person,” Damien explained.
Damien said that the standard emergency response to someone experiencing a mental crisis is either a short stay in hospital or the diagnosis that ‘yes, you appear to be unwell, let’s get you in to see someone if there is not a huge waiting list’.
Reflex's unique triage process looks practically at what’s keeping people in the crisis point of their mental illness and addresses it practically and immediately.
Damien comments that many psychiatry and counselling services (with exception of the counselling hotlines such as Lifeline) only operate 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday - but crises don’t adhere to business hours.
Damien is willing to be called on at any hour of the day, any day of the week.
At present, many of Damien’s clients come through referral such as disability employment service organisations, emergency services and overloaded psychologists.
As well as providing in-person counselling, Reflex also operates drop in style centres at cafes and community halls where people can have a chat with Damien.
For now, these are located in the Cessnock Local Government area. Some have also been run at Wallsend and he has a view to launch more in Newcastle.
Damien’s end goal for the business is that his clients will not have to pay.
“So many people are priced out of good mental health care,” he said.
Reflex does have a charge model for private clients who don’t have a health care card, but largely Damien tries to keep the services free. Much of his funding comes through successful government grants.
His goals for the near future include employing a social worker and case manager and signing a memorandum of understanding with the NSW police.
Longer term he wants to see his model of operation spread throughout the state and country; whether that’s through Reflex, or through other organisations that see merit in the mental health ambulance style of care.
Damien said one of the main challenges of starting his charity here in Newcastle is that our city doesn’t have “the same level of funding or resourcing as Sydney”. Aside from that, he believes Newcastle has been a great testing ground for his organisation.
“I’ve found Novocastrians are accepting of the need for support for mental health and you don’t find that everywhere,” he said.
“Newcastle seems to have a really compassionate energy. We’re big but we are still small enough to be aware of each other. There is that attitude of ‘how can I help? what can I do?’ that has made starting reflex in Newcastle more worthwhile and I think also more possible,” he said.
Reflex’s ultimate goal is to see people get the help that they need, when and where they need it. For more information head to reflex.org.au.