The transformative journey of NeRASP – a program offering hope for substance abuse and mental health recovery

The transformative journey of NeRASP – a program offering hope for substance abuse and mental health recovery

19 February, 2024

Substance abuse and mental health issues often stem from a complex number of contributing factors. The North East Recovery and Support Program (NeRASP) is a harm reduction, post withdrawal day rehabilitation program delivered by Banyule Community Health Service in the Eastern Melbourne PHN catchment that is dedicated to addressing these multifaceted issues through a comprehensive range of supports.

This evidence-based eight-week program has shown remarkable results and positive outcomes for participants. NeRASP can provide face-to-face group therapy, psychoeducation, peer support, individual counselling, phone coaching, assistance with housing issues, employment readiness and access to education, assistance to address physical health needs and referral to relevant health services and access to alcohol and drug clinicians, doctors, counsellors, mental health workers and other health care professionals.

Rebecca, a 27-year-old mother with a history of substance abuse, domestic violence, a traumatic childhood, previous incarceration, loss of custody of her children, debt, and homelessness, participated in the program. When she began the program, she was moderately depressed, extremely anxious and stressed. Though the program’s wrap around services, she attended integrated mental health and AOD group sessions, was referred through to a legal service for assistance, was linked to peer support groups and received a referral for assistance to Gamblers Help for her financial debts. Additionally, she was able to receive a range of supports for court and the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing.

Rebecca's determination and collaboration with program facilitators led to significant improvements in her mental health and wellbeing, as well as regaining custody of her children, securing safe accommodation, gaining control of her finances, ceased her offending behaviour, found employment, overcame substance abuse and reported feeling confident and hopeful of her future. Three months after she had finished the program, she was continuing to improve with normal levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

In 2022-2023, the NeRASP program delivered four eight-week group sessions, each with 10 participants. Between February and March 2023, 950 individual sessions were conducted, including telephone coaching and single support sessions addressing financial, legal, and social needs. Participants also engaged in 146 secondary consultations with GPs, psychiatrists, legal professionals, psychologists, peer support workers, care coordinators, financial counselling services, Gamblers Help, SHARC, detoxes, housing services, and family members. All graduates from the program indicated making changes consistent with their goals, reducing substance use, and improving their overall quality of life.

The program empowered participants to have a fresh start at life, fostering a sense of community and shared struggles among individuals. As one graduate reflected, “What I gained from RASP was to hope to continue to live a life worth living and know it's not as scary as you think and we do get a second chance of giving it a go. Although, socially, I felt out of place with my peers. RASP brought us together as a community and individuals who are universally connected in their struggles. Important relationships and reflections were built throughout the 8 weeks. What I have taken from RASP is no matter where I'm at, as long as I use my skills and strive towards my core values, I will continue the journey to be happier within myself. They've opened up an avenue to self-compassion that I didn't know existed within me. I have also tapped into my vulnerability and accessed things that I need to work on in the future with my other mental health supports and where my addiction stemmed from which I wasn't able to recognise before the program started.”