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Tony is a unicorn

Tony was attending a men’s behavioural change program at Star Health when he met First Step Legal lawyer Elizabeth. Tony was in his early 30s, couch surfing, dependent on methamphetamine, alcohol and cannabis, wasn’t working and felt hopeless. With Elizabeth, he was working through outstanding charges related to family violence, that he had perpetrated against his then partner.

Elizabeth identified that Tony really needed more support than he was getting, so asked Kym Coupe, First Step Team Leader Mental Health Services, to join the appointment.

Kym and Tony spoke briefly, and arranged to meet in a few weeks, but in the interim Kym told him to call if he was really struggling.

He called a few days later.

“Nine out of 10 times, people don’t call for a whole range of reasons – they’re not interested, they’re not ready, or they talk themselves out of it because they’re too anxious. But Tony called feeling overwhelmed and wanting support to manage his stress better. He knew I couldn’t ‘fix’ things for him.” - Kym

Kym discovered that Tony had a long history of childhood trauma, that his mum has significant mental illness, and his dad has substance abuse problems.

Determined to make a change, and with the support of the Mental Health team, Tony decided to stop using methamphetamine - whilst still homeless!

The team linked him to the GreenLight supportive housing program and he was placed in crisis accommodation and later supported into permanent, private rental. He was also supported to find a job which he was really enjoying, but unfortunately caught COVID-19 and was not entitled to sickness benefits.

The financial strain became overwhelming, and he began drinking large amounts of alcohol to help cope with the stress. He found himself stuck in a difficult pattern where he would drink, wake up with a hangover and full of anxiety, and then drink to manage the anxiety.

“Tony called and said he was having a bad day and wanted to ‘blow up’ his life because things were just too hard. I fed back to him that even though he was feeling deregulated, stressed and angry, the first thing he did was call me. So, there was a part of his brain that was acting protectively, because if he did really want to blow up his life, he wouldn’t have called me to talk him off the ledge.” - Kym

The Mental Health team, along with our GP Dr Niall Query, supported Tony to reduce his drinking and eventually switch over to 0 alcohol drinks.

After that, he returned to work quiet quickly, although we are now supporting him to find another job.

“Tony is kind of a unicorn. If you had told me on the day we met that he was going to call, self-cease methamphetamine, show up weekly for his appointments and work through it, that he was going to be the guy that takes on advice and implement the strategies that we talk about, I would never have believed it. He has just consistently kept at it when stuff got really hard, when he’s struggled, when he’s had little slip ups. He’s just consistently kept at it.” - Kym

Tony, the Mental Health Team and First Step Legal investigated the avenues available to him within the legal system, that prioritised his wellbeing but still addressed the legal proceedings. They agreed that the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) was the best pathway.

The ARC is a therapeutic court process that requires monthly court appearances with the magistrate to ensure Tony is meeting the treatment goals in his care plan. To participate in the ARC, Elizabeth demonstrated that Tony’s offending was directly linked to mental illness and substance abuse and that treatment was the most beneficial, rehabilitative outcome because that is what increases his likelihood of not reoffending. Whilst normally an external case manager would be appointed, the legal team were able to have this role allocated to the Mental Health team to ensure continuity of care.

“It’s been a year since I met Tony and he has achieved so much. He has a son and, given his own upbringing, is acutely aware of wanting to make sure his son has a really good childhood that is not full of trauma. That has been his motivator.” - Kym