Much of Karalyn Hingston’s life has been impacted by severe mental ill-health.
The Ulverstone woman’s distress led to physical illness that landed her in hospital on a number of occasions.
At her lowest point, she was planning her suicide.
Ms Hinsgton was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, and spent 18 nights in a private mental health clinic in Launceston last year.
Health Minister Michael Ferguson said he had met with Ms Hingston and was “grateful for her honesty” and for her offer to work with the government to improve the way mental health care was provided in the state.
“I’ve been an anxious person probably all my life,” Ms Hingston said.
“I’d had numerous doctors suggest to me that I needed some assistance because of anxiety.
“I viewed it that, okay, I was a bit of a worrier, but I had it under control and if anyone suggested that I had a mental health concern, I didn’t receive that at all well.”
Ms Hingston ended up in hospital in 2005 with a physical illness that had no confirmed diagnosis – something she couldn’t accept at the time.
“In my mind, in this day and age, everything has an answer from a physical perspective.”
She was in hospital for about a month and lost a significant amount of weight in six weeks.
“During that time, it was suggested by some medical specialists - there’s something physical, but maybe your mental health is playing an issue here as well.
“In my mind, that was their easy answer.”
Ms Hingston was in and out of hospital for about 10 years and saw a number of different specialists.
“I had very, very poor physical health.”
In March last year, she was on autoimmune medication, and her skin was sensitive to UV rays and light.
“So for three weeks, we lived here with all the curtains drawn, doonas and sheets all over the windows and anyone will tell you now that’s not healthy.
“During that time, I became seriously depressed and was very open about it.
“I told my partner I was going to kill myself. I told numerous doctors that I was going to kill myself.”
Ms Hingston counts herself lucky. She has a supportive partner who took time off work and “superglued” himself to her so she wasn’t left alone.
“It was obvious that I needed serious mental assistance. I would sleep 20 hours a day. I was exhausted. I had no appetite.
“I knew I loved my partner. I knew I loved our doggies. But I couldn’t feel it.
“I’d gotten to the point where I had shut down.”
Ms Hingston’s cousin and her husband are both medical specialists in Hobart.
Last Anzac Day, her cousin happened to message her and it “opened the doors”.
“I said, ‘look, we’re screaming for help. What do we do?’ She told me about the Calvary Clinic at St Luke’s private hospital in Launceston. I had a stereotyped image of those places that they’d be cold, they’d be uncaring, they’d nearly be inhumane and I would sooner die than go there.”
But her cousin explained what the clinics were like, and Ms Hingston knew she needed to go.
“I had two options - go there or die.”
She already had a specialist appointment lined up in Launceston for her skin. Her cousin said the specialist could write the referral she needed to go to the private clinic.
“So my partner took me up there. By this stage, I was starting to struggle forming sentences - I’d lost all ability pretty much to communicate.
“My partner repeatedly asked this specialist, ‘can you fill out the paperwork to have Karalyn admitted to the private clinic?’
“He repeatedly told us he couldn’t.”
The specialist rang the Launceston General Hospital emergency department and told them Ms Hingston’s situation.
“Despite my misgivings, we went there.”
After an hour waiting to be seen, Ms Hingston couldn’t cope with being in the ED anymore, so they left.
“And with nobody else to turn to, my partner rang my cousin in Hobart, and he said, ‘what do I do?’
“She wrote the referral and I was admitted the next day.”
I tell my story because I want it to be easier for the next person and the person after that. That’s what matters now.Karalyn Hingston
Ms Hingston spent 18 nights in St Luke’s Calvary Clinic in April and May last year.
“At the clinic, you go to classes during the day, so you see a clinical psychologist and you learn tools and you learn things about how your brain operates.
“You learn what healthy mental health is. You learn that mental health is an illness, and like a physical illness, it’s going to present in different ways.
“If you get pneumonia and I get pneumonia, your symptoms are going to be different to mine and you’re probably going to respond differently to me.
“Mental health is no different. When you have a mental health illness, it presents differently in different people, and the treatment’s different for different people.”
Ms Hingston also saw a psychiatrist five days a week and was put on an antidepressant.
Her partner went to visit her everyday with a picnic lunch.
“It just was gradually getting the confidence and the skills to re-engage.
“What was the worst situation in my life was the best thing that could have happened to me because I can’t ever remember feeling so continually relaxed and calm and happy and peaceful.
“I thought life was really tough all the time and that everyday was a struggle. It’s not meant to be that way.”
Before going home, patients have a trial night to see how they cope.
Ms Hingston stayed at the clinic for 18 nights. When she went home with her partner for her first trial night, she woke up the next morning and said, “when we go back there today, I’m coming home with you”.
“I’m lucky because I have a wonderful partner, but not everyone goes home to a wonderful partner, a supportive partner.
“I’m incredibly fortunate, but most people don’t know these facilities exist. Most people don’t have a cousin who’s a medical specialist who can save their life, a lot of people don’t have private health insurance and a lot of people don’t have a supportive partner.
“So I’m alive today in spite of our medical system.”
What was the worst situation in my life was the best thing that could have happened to me because I can’t ever remember feeling so continually relaxed and calm and happy and peaceful.Karalyn Hingston
“This isn’t about pointing fingers and it isn’t even about me,” Ms Hingston said.
“I tell my story because I want it to be easier for the next person and the person after that.
“That’s what matters now.”
She made a a submission to the legislative council acute health services committee last year.
“Whilst the community is becoming more accepting of mental health, I can assure you there is still a stigma.”
Ms Hingston said someone presenting to an emergency department, who is clearly suicidal and in obvious mental distress, should be viewed as urgent, just like someone in physical distress.
Ms Hingston said she left St Luke’s Calvary Clinic last May healthy.
She remains on a low dose antidepressant and has learnt skills that help her keep her mind healthy.
“I have habits that I’d learnt over a long period of time. I’d catastrophise a lot, so I was always planning what was going to go wrong next. These are things I might have been doing my whole life.
“They’re traits that I challenge now. I’ve learnt the skills in the clinic to challenge, to understand them and to know how to deal with them.
“It’s something I’ll forever be conscious of - my mental health, but I’ve never been as healthy as I am now.”
The state government, in 2015, introduced its Rethink Mental Health Policy.
Health Minister Michael Ferguson said the policy was the government’s long-term plan to develop an integrated mental health system that provided support to people with mental health issues.
“We are committed to providing more support to Tasmanians living with mental illness,” he said.
“I am advised that the program is running well, as we work to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues, and raise awareness of the significant impact mental health plays in peoples’ lives.”
Mr Ferguson said the government would be “heavily investing” in mental health.
“We believe we are striking the right balance between supporting both community-based care and high level acute services in the public system. [We] will invest $95 million in mental health care over the next six years to build new facilities and employ over 125 additional frontline staff.
“Our plan will provide 25 new community-based mental health beds to support the RHH, and provide new adolescent units in Launceston and Hobart. In addition, we will provide a $3.3 million boost to the community sector to support better health in our communities.”
What is needed
Ms Hingston said an emergency department was a difficult place to go for someone suffering a mental health crisis.
“Yet, our GPs have no other options, there is no-where else, publicly, that they can send you. There is a lack of acute options. This must change.”
That, of course, could not be changed overnight, she said.
“If in the short-term we’re still going to have to send people to the ED, then we need to fund every ED with qualified personnel on every shift to cope with those people, and those staff members are only dedicated to mental health. We also have to designate a safe area for those people to be in.”
Ms Hingston said the Mental Health Services Helpline needed to be resourced and staffed accordingly and there needed to be a “massive marketing campaign” to ensure every Tasmanian knew the number to call.
“We also have a Crisis Assessment Triage Team that, from my experience, nobody outside the medical profession knows about. Tasmanians should be able to ring that and then have somebody come to their home to assess them, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Mr Ferguson said he had “enthusiastically” agreed to have Ms Hingston’s experiences used to inform bureaucracy and health service providers on ways to make the system more responsive and user-friendly.
Help is available
If you or someone you know needs help, you can contact:
- Lifeline: 131 114
- beyondblue: 1300 224 636
- Mensline: 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800, kidshelpline.com.au
- Mental Health Services Helpline: 1800 332 388
- In an emergency, dial 000
Mental Health Council of Tasmania chief executive Connie Digolis said people could “glean some optimism” from Karalyn Hingston’s story.
“A story that shows how the right care model, delivered at the right time and in the right setting, can support Tasmanians like Karalyn to recover and indeed thrive following an episode of mental ill-health,” she said.
“We must ensure services and supports are available and easily accessible to all Tasmanians who need them.”
Ms Digolis said there was a “clear way forward”.
“And it’s an integrated mental health care model. We can work together to keep moving toward a mentally healthy Tasmania.”
READ MORE:Opinion piece by Connie Digolis