Vinnies Compeer program celebrates 10 years of providing companionship for those with mental illness

MILESTONE: Tim Lenten from Bendigo Health, volunteer Kenneth Jones, Bendigo Compeer co-ordinator Sandra Atwell and St Vincent de Paul Society regional president Brian Lenten celebrate 10 years of the Compeer program in Bendigo.

MILESTONE: Tim Lenten from Bendigo Health, volunteer Kenneth Jones, Bendigo Compeer co-ordinator Sandra Atwell and St Vincent de Paul Society regional president Brian Lenten celebrate 10 years of the Compeer program in Bendigo.

A program that combats the social isolation people with serious mental illness can face is celebrating 10 years of operation in Bendigo.

The Compeer program, operated by St Vincent de Paul Society, partners people with mental illness with a community volunteer.

Volunteers meet with a participant at least once a week, to talk, have a coffee together, or do some other activity they feel comfortable with.

Bendigo Health’s Tim Lenten said people with serious mental illness had a higher degree of social isolation because of their illness and the lower socioeconomic status that often resulted from their condition.

Mr Lenten said loneliness was not only distressing, but made it harder to cope with the symptoms of mental illness.

Stigma and misunderstanding within the community also meant people could be reluctant to engage with those affected by mental illness, he said.

Mr Lenten said the program gave people with mental illness social connectedness, which led to a sense of belonging and wellbeing.

Bendigo Compeer co-ordinator Sandra Atwell added that it built the confidence of those who participated and provided an opportunity for them to experience things they might not otherwise do alone.

Kenneth Jones, who has volunteered with the program for nine years, said he also got enjoyment out of it too.

“You build up an ongoing friendship,” he said.

Ms Atwell said participants in the program not only established a friendship with the volunteer they met with, but other participants and volunteers, expanding their social network.

Victorian Compeer program manager Liz Cromb said about 150 people had been helped by the program during its 10-year history in Bendigo.

The program was established in Bendigo when Mr Lenten and his father, regional Vinnies president Brian Lenten, arranged a way for Bendigo Health to support the program in the city by providing office space, education and training, links with mental health networks and a position on the advisory committee.

Ms Cromb said Bendigo was the first place in regional Victoria to receive the program following a feasibility study into the need and the capacity for volunteers in this area.

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