We human beings are an interesting bunch. Whether it’s race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or disability, we are often determined to find ways to place barriers between ourselves. We can be so destructive to each other yet research shows that we need each other for our own health’s sake.
Our minds cannot function without stimulation from other human beings. Imagine if you we stranded on a deserted island – all alone. You would probably survive physically, but you would slowly be perishing mentally. This, in turn, would have a detrimental effect on your health and wellbeing, making social inclusion a vital determinant of good health. Without inclusion, people are more likely to experience poor health[i].
Sports Commentator and Comedian, Joe Rogan, said it best when describing the detrimental effects of social isolation and how much we as human beings require one another for mental stimulus. “We pretend we don’t need each other, but it’s bulls**t. Take this for example, the worst thing you can do to someone in prison is put them in solitary confinement. Think about that…you’re surrounded by rapists and murderers and the worst punishment you can get in there is to be separated from those people.” [ii]
Imagine life in a functioning and busy community, yet feeling so alone.
Imagine living in a bustling boarding house, yet experiencing isolation.
Meet Phil. Phil experienced both. He felt so excluded and now shares his heart felt story of change.
Phil lived in boarding houses and hostels for 15 years before connecting with FSG Australia (FSG). He describes these shared living environments with lots of people in them, as places where he constantly felt isolated and lonely. For someone living with a disability, exclusion is common and isolation can often be exacerbated in these circumstances. Living in this situation, Phil was present in his community but not socially included.
When Phil came to FSG, he had been referred from one service to another. An unfortunate but familiar pattern in the community sector. In all his time within this system, not once had Phil been asked what his dreams and aspirations were. At FSG this is often the first question asked. It was a refreshing yet surprising change for Phil.
Marcus, Senior Hub Coordinator at FSG’s Southport Central Hub, has been working with Phil since the start of the year when he first connected with the Hub.
Marcus explains their introduction. “When I met Phil he was 38 years old. He had been in boarding houses since he was a teenager, aged 16. It was obvious that he wanted to connect and get involved in his community but he needed assistance in developing his interpersonal skills. This seemed to be his biggest barrier to community involvement and I realised, through conversation, that no one has really taken the time to work with Phil to address and nurture this.”
The power of FSG’s community hub model proved itself in Phil’s situation.
For the past 18 months, Phil has lived in shared accommodation in an FSG property and is working with Marcus and FSG’s LINC team (Living in Natural Communities Program) to achieve his personal goals. Together, Marcus, the LINC team and Phil sat down to discuss what Phil wants for his future, his possibilities and his opportunities.
Phil’s answers, although surprising in their simplicity, serve as a reminder to those of us not facing discrimination and isolation because of our disability, religion or race, that so much in life is taken for granted. “Phil said three things to me when I asked him,” says Marcus. “He wanted to be able to live by himself, have a job and hopefully a girlfriend.”
“Phil had never been made to feel valued in his own community or had the opportunity to strive for a purpose in life. These are the very things we focus on at our Hub. Regularly recognising and embracing people’s value and highlighting everyone’s place in society,” says Marcus.
Using their years of experience, the LINC team concentrate on finding out what someone’s likes and interests are, and then set about proactively supporting and promoting these. “Phil is a really funny, caring and happy person when he has the opportunity to be himself and get involved in things he’s interested in,” says Marcus.
Through positive reinforcement, the LINC team worked with Phil to develop his interpersonal skills and walked alongside him on a daily basis. The team worked towards Phil’s goal of independence by teaching him everyday living skills – how to look after a home, attending appointments on time, verbal communication and non-verbal communication, as well as self-awareness.
From assisted transport to complete independence.
Marcus notes that Phil had never used public transport, relying mainly on transportation through LINC, shared Taxi’s or volunteer transportation organisations.
“We worked with Phil to get to and from training, workshops and social gatherings totally independently. He participates in the Men’s Working Group at FSG’s The Deck (Community Hub) on Mondays, and attends a learning and development program through STEP every Tuesday. All this is done while travelling independently, with no staff support. Phil catches the bus and walks to where he needs to be.”
From productivity to purchases.
“Every Thursday, the Men’s Group travel in an FSG vehicle to sell the wares they made that Monday. Phil recently sold something he made for $15. This was an important and rewarding moment for Phil, discovering a new level of independence and receiving commerce for his efforts,” says Marcus.
From exclusion to inclusion.
These basic social guides and training set the wheels in motion to social inclusion. By walking alongside Phil, together staying committed and focused, Phil is now feeling the benefits of regular engagement with other people – love, employment, self-awareness, independence and a purposeful & fulfilling future.
Phil moved into his own apartment this year and is now living independently. This may appear to be a fairly straightforward process to many of us, but it was really challenging for Phil due to his schizophrenia and mild intellectual disability. The journey to get to this point was a patient one, but not a hard one. Not only is Phil living in his own accommodation, but is also receiving minimal support while doing so.
After Phil had settled into his home, the LINC team decided to throw him a house warming party. FSG staff invited other FSG customers, who were Phil’s friends, as well as staff members who had worked with Phil. It was the first house warming party Phil had ever had!
A thoughtful touch that is above and beyond what most services would provide. The moment also provided Phil with valuable reassurance that his place in society is a real one. Helping his preparation towards long term goals of employment and a meaningful relationship with someone special in his life.
“The process began with Phil’s dreams and aspirations. The consistency required to achieve this is a complete team effort. Every team member is on board with Phil’s goals. Together, we worked those out and continue to work with Phil every day to reach milestones and achieve those goals. We trial things with Phil to see if they work and help him find out what he likes and is interested in. In general, it’s about quality of life. We’re there to offer options and choice to help Phil reach his hopes and dreams,” says Marcus.
Since moving into his new accommodation LINC staff continue to work with Phil on general life skills – home maintenance, verbal communication, numeracy and literacy courses at our Coomera Hub, as well as attending numerous social gatherings at our various community hubs (Phil loves being sociable).
Marcus sums up the FSG philosophy, “Just because you have a disability, why can’t you, and why don’t you, deserve the same quality of life as everyone else. Phil came from a life of social isolation to now is living and thriving on social inclusion and interaction.”
[i] Vic Health – Social Inclusion as a determinant of mental health and wellbeing. Research Summary 2. January 2005.
[ii] Joe Rogan – Triggered. 2016.
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