For young people dealing with mental illness and alcohol and drug problems, finding the right supports can be problematic, particularly if they are expected to travel large distances to access help.

Connexions worker Jenny says patience is key when working with young people.

Jesuit Social Services’ Connexions program lowers these barriers, offering an outreach model designed to support participants where they are most comfortable, increasing their chances of engaging with the program. The program provides integrated case work and counselling to young people aged 16 to 28 who are experiencing mental illness and substance abuse problems.

“I will often meet up with a participant in the community for counselling, which makes our service a lot more accessible for young people who are traumatised or disadvantaged in different ways,” says staff member Jenny Fong.

“We’re very tolerant of situations when participants just don’t feel well and cancel at the last minute. That’s quite a big difference to how other services work where if a participant had a couple of no-shows over a month they would discharge them.

“Because we are a bit more patient with the young people, we can build trust and rapport and let them know that we care and can understand why sometimes they just can’t make an appointment.”

A year ago Jenny started working with Nick (not his real name) who “didn’t really care too much about what he was doing to do with his life.”

“Earlier in the year he relapsed and started using ice again, which led to admission into a psych inpatient unit. I noticed that after his third admission, something shifted for him and he reconnected with our Artful Dodgers Studios program. This is a huge step, considering that a year ago he hardly left his house.

“Connexions is so important because it reaches out to the most vulnerable cohort of young people where they are in this changing environment where services are getting a lot more rigid with the way they work because of funding constraints. Our approach is really needed. I can’t imagine what it would be like for the young people that I see without it,” says Jenny.