The Nambour-based Graceville Centre has marked half a century of providing mental health support on the Sunshine Coast.

The centre was Queensland’s first after-care centre for psychiatric patients when it opened in 1971, filling a gap for a more comprehensive and compassionate approach to mental health care and support.

Susan Dwyer, service manager – mental health for Lutheran Services, which runs the centre, says the opening was the start of a new era for mental health support, with people starting to transition from institutions to community living.

“It was a different time for people with mental health concerns in 1971,” she says. “If you were living with a mental illness then you were committed to a psychiatric institution. There were no options and you had little to no input into your treatment.

“The support and treatment of individuals living with a mental illness has significantly changed over the last 50 years. There have been several important movements over that time, but the most significant would be deinstitutionalisation and the introduction of legislation to protect the rights of people with a mental illness. Today, we are at a stage where people are no longer defined by their mental illness or disability.”

Since 1971 the centre has impacted the lives of thousands of people through its mental health support and group therapy programs, outreach services and supported accommodation.

“Today, the Graceville Centre has about 110 staff and supports nearly 200 clients across the wider Sunshine Coast community,” Susan says. “We operate nine different programs that support people living with a mental illness and/or disability. Our disability supports have significantly increased since the NDIS was introduced in Queensland several years ago.”

The anniversary was marked with a small service and morning tea for clients, staff and supporters, both past and present. A plaque was also unveiled as a permanent memento. 

“My highlight of the day was giving a site tour to some of the original staff and sharing stories of clients throughout the years,” Susan says.

She says mental health and disability support remains crucial today.

“Statistics estimate that one in five people will suffer a mental illness and one in six will have a disability across their lifetime,” she says. “We need to ensure that effective systems of support are available to help people improve their quality of life and be able to live the life of their choosing.

“The best part of the job is working with our clients – their positive attitude and ability to overcome significant barriers in life is inspiring.”

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