When Centrecare Waimate was established in the 1980s, drought and financial pressures were taking a heavy toll on the local farming community.
Seeing a need, community services got together to start the counselling service and now, more than 30 years later, it remains as important as ever for the district’s population, Centrecare Waimate chairman Martyn Jensen says.
The outbreak of Mycoplasma bovishad been especially difficult for the South Canterbury farming community, Mr Jensen said.
“The suicide rates are not good, especially in the rural areas.
“In some ways, [Centrecare] was ahead of its time.”
Over the past two years in particular, demand for mental health services at Centrecare had grown exponentially.
When the community counselling service moved into its Queen St premises in 2017, it had 40 clients. Now, it has more than 400.
And between June last year and May this year, there was a 204% increase in the number of new clients who sought support from the centre’s qualified counsellors.
Centrecare manager Sam Roebeck said people had become more comfortable about seeking treatment for mental health problems, and accurate capturing of statistics and more promotion of the service in Waimate would also have contributed to the increase.
But that meant there was more pressure on services and funding was not increasing at the same rate.
Centrecare is mostly funded by community donations and grants.
Until last year, counselling services were free, but the cost of an hour-long session has risen to $20.
“We would love to stay free, but the costs of wages and the amount of grants and donations just wasn’t going to cover it,” Ms Roebeck said.
“It was a question of introduce the fee, or cut back hours – and we didn’t want to go backwards.”
Centrecare did have the discretion to waive fees for those struggling financially, she said.
There was more than enough demand for services in Waimate for Centrecare to expand, but until more money was available that would not be possible, Ms Roebeck said.
“We all have second jobs. It could be a fulltime job for at least three or four of us, we would have the passion, the dedication and the time to do that, but unfortunately the funding is not there,” she said.
Mr Jensen said accessing funding for operational costs from local and central government was hard.
“The Government has said there is $30 million out there for mental wellbeing, but how do you get that?”
The centre’s goal was to create a “better future” for the Waimate community, and its clearance rates were “quite high”.
Mr Jensen said although funding was an issue, “we will keep it going, one way or another”.
“We won’t turn people away. It goes against what we are about.”
Wait times at Centrecare were reasonable, and that was important, Ms Roebeck said.
“Most of last year, we had no waiting list and have been able to see people within a week.
“The sooner they get in, the sooner they get on the road to helping themselves and getting in charge of the situation.”
Elsewhere in the country, that was not always the case.
“When they get the courage to do it, and are brave enough to do it, then they get told ‘we can see you in six weeks’ time’.
“Six weeks later is not going to address the need immediately.”