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SCC resident featured in article in the Western Australian
Posted by on December 5, 2013

Artist flourishes in new home


The West Australian 

Talented artist Joanna Elt, 46, has spent most of her adult years in institutions but a move to supported accommodation two years ago has helped her gain independence and control of the schizophrenia which has shaped much of her life.

Ms Elt lives in Stirling House, one of three community-based group homes run by Southern Cross Care in Perth for those with complex mental health needs.

Team leader Lisa Burtenshaw said Ms Elt had blossomed since moving in, becoming very social and active in the community, attending weekly hydrotherapy classes, circuit training and church.

“Unfortunately, Joanna suffers from persistent and prolonged mental illness and schizophrenia which has controlled and dictated most of her adult life,” Ms Burtenshaw said.

“As the symptoms of her disease were very prevalent and chronic, manifesting themselves in delusions and altered perceptions, the world for Joanna was a scary and unsure place and hospitalisation was the only option.”

Now living in the community, she rarely had delusions and was able to manage her illness well: a result of the “wraparound care” the service provides.

Ms Burtenshaw said the focus was not just to treat the mental health issues of clients but to work with them on identifying and achieving their dreams and aspirations.

Access to affordable housing and community support is a stated priority area for the Mental Health Commission because without it people with mental illness have little choice but to stay in high-cost psychiatric hospital beds for longer than they need.

In 2011-12, the State Government committed more than $70 million to purchase homes and provide community support so hospitalisation would no longer have to be the first option for people with a mental illness.

Ms Elt has had long hospital admissions at Graylands Hospital, Osborne Park Hospital and mental health hostels. Now though, she dreams of being able to live on her own.

A dream that could one day become a reality, according to Ms Burtenshaw.

People such as Ms Elt who had lived in institutions for most of their lives needed to learn how to care for themselves, how to do household chores and interact in the community and this was something they learnt in supported accommodation.

“When Joanna first came to us there was a readjustment period as due to prolonged hospitalisation she had lost many social and life skills. Her re-integration into the community has been a positive journey and one Joanna has worked very hard at. There were some bumps along the way but also a lot of laughs and humour,” Ms Burtenshaw said.

While living independently was not achievable for all, it was a possibility for someone like Ms Elt, although she would still need some daily support.

“The majority of our guys have all improved immensely and have a better quality of life also,” Ms Burtenshaw said. “Family members and nurses that cared for our clients throughout the years always remark how they can’t believe the difference in our clients’ lives since moving back into community living, which is down to the great support networks they have around them.

“When someone gets that love and care that may have been lacking ... it gives them the confidence to grow and want to get involved and do things.”

For Ms Elt, art has always been a necessary creative outlet. She has been involved in a number of exhibitions and sold most of her work. She favours landscapes but also does bright abstract works and nudes. “When I paint I feel peaceful within,” she said. “It gives me a lot of contentment. I feel placid and I enjoy it.” 


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