Reflections on Insight’s 'Living with Addiction’
Clinical Director for Turning Point’s Statewide Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Associate Professor Shalini Arunogiri reflects on SBS Insight’s ‘Living with Addiction’ episode and the importance of amplifying the real stories of addiction.
As a guest on Insight’s ‘Living with Addiction’ program, the SBS team’s focus on lived experience was genuinely refreshing. The show had two clinical and research experts in the room, of which I was one, with everyone else being experts by lived or living experience.
The discussion that followed was an important reminder that centring the voices of people affected by addiction leads to powerful conversations that can dismantle stigma and encourage help seeking.
Bringing lived and living experience to the foreground
What struck me when we filmed the program was the diversity of the participants in the audience. Bringing the stories of addiction to the foreground, through the voices of people with lived and living experience, showed that addiction can affect anyone, regardless of circumstance.
As a clinician researcher, this is something I know to be true — and yet hearing the breadth of stories from people from different backgrounds drove home that addiction truly does not discriminate.
Kim Hughes, a former Australian test cricket captain, courageously shared his own story of addiction to alcohol and his road to sobriety.
While we know that delays to help seeking for addiction can be up to two decades long, hearing Kim’s story, from a man that so many people look up to as an Australian icon, was a stark reminder that shame and stigma can be the single biggest barrier to preventing someone from seeking treatment for addiction.
Turning Point peer worker, Baden Hicks, also shared his story of addiction with the audience and reaffirmed how important visibility is for people with lived and living experience of addiction.
Recognising opportunities for reform
One of the most necessary discussion points came from Professor Nicole Lee, who spoke about the need for regulation of private rehabilitation providers. At present, there are no national standards or models of care that the private addiction treatment sector is bound to, which is another systemic issue consumers and families face when seeking help for addiction. This makes the treatment sector difficult to navigate, and places vulnerable individuals at risk.
A 2020 review by Victoria’s Health Complaints Commissioner of private health service providers offering alcohol and other drug rehabilitation and counselling services further illustrates the concerns Nicole spoke about.
At Turning Point, we have previously made submissions on this issue, and our Executive Director Professor Dan Lubman AM contributed to a Four Corners episode on the impact of private rehabilitation providers in 2016. Yet, six years on, this very issue is still making the news.
Living proof of systemic failures
Katie Horneshaw, an active harm reduction advocate, told the story of her own family. Katie's sister, Anna, struggled with co-occurring mental health and substance use problems.
Katie and her mother tried, time and time again, to help Anna access the support she needed, but she fell through the gaps between the siloed mental health and alcohol and other drug treatment systems. (In fact, her family were told she was 'too complex' for either system, and she was placed on an extended waitlist for residential wraparound care, which her family was trying to get her.)
Katie bravely shared the tragic story of what happened to Anna, which will have lifelong impacts on Anna, Katie, her family, and their community.
As a clinician, this story really moved me because it is living proof of how the current systems — and accompanying approach to addiction and mental health comorbidity — is failing so many people. We know that roughly half a million Australians can't get treatment they need, and Katie’s story epitomises this statistic.
It is validating to note that recommendations from the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System identified a lack of capacity to access integrated care for addiction and mental health comorbidity as an area that needs urgent attention. In response, Turning Point will lead the delivery of the Statewide Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to offer accessible care to Victorians with co-occurring mental health and substance or addiction issues.
As the inaugural Clinical Director of the Centre, it’s my belief that the renewed investment and interest in the need for addiction and mental health sectors to work together will ensure we deliver a best practice, collaborative model of integrated care to more consumers across Victoria.
Where to from here
The opportunity to have addiction discussed by people with lived and living experience in a medium like SBS’s Insight was a welcome opportunity to highlight the real stories of addiction, and I hope similar forums amplify these untold stories in the future.