A community mental health charity has received a funding injection from the NSW Government.

Suicide prevention charity MoWaNa, which stands for Mona Vale, Warriewood and Narrabeen, operates a safe space drop-in service out of The Mind Café at Pittwater Road, Narrabeen.

MoWaNa have been awarded a grant following a promise by Labor that all of its candidates in this year’s NSW Election could nominate up to $400k in grants that would be honoured whether they were elected into the seat or not.

Labor candidate for Pittwater Jeffrey Quinn allocated $50k of that funding envelope towards MoWaNa after becoming aware of the work they were doing in the community, preventing suicide.

Following a probity process, that funding has now been confirmed and was announced by Pittwater MP Rory Amon, who had Mr Quinn (main image, left) do the formal handover of the $50k grant at The Mind Café last Friday afternoon (15 December).

Guy, Kate, Aileen, Melani and Michell at the MoWaNa safe space at The Mind Cafe

MoWaNa President Melani Kypri (image above, second from right) said the funding would go directly to mental health training for volunteers.

“I have anticipated getting the money, and I’ve already got 30 expressions of interest, which is around half what the grant will fund. They don’t always turn into volunteers, but we have 17 at this moment going through the process.

“We’ll work with Roses in the Ocean, who are very well respected in the community as being suicide prevention specialists. They will do the first one, and we’ve got quite a few people going through that process at the moment.

“Volunteers will do mental health first aid, assist and safe talk. Then we’ll do our own in-house training that will be specific to our onboarding, and how we want volunteers to conduct themselves. We’ve already put policies together on what we expect, it’s all about kindness,” explained Ms Kypri.

The drop-in service at The Mind Café has already saved lives, with Paul Smith* saying a discussion with MoWaNa can act as a ‘circuit-breaker’ at a crucial moment.

“I have suffered from pretty severe mental health issues all my life. It got bad, probably ten years ago and I’ve attempted to take my life a couple of times.

“I’ve been in psych wards, about ten, including Northern Beaches Hospital in numerous times. It’s been a pretty rough journey. But in recent times, I found this place and it’s been good. It’s somewhere at least once a week to go, and talk to people. Getting support from people with similar understanding is very helpful,” shared Mr Smith.

Community mental health charity MoWaNa receiving a grant from Jeffrey Quinn and Rory Amon

Former NSW Police officer Paul Jones* said the drop-in service offered by MoWaNa meets a need that no clinical service can deliver, due to lived experience and the unstaged nature of the interactions.

“I spent three years in counter terrorism and was involved in the Lindt Café siege. Things compounded on me and I walked out of work one day in October 2018, I never went back.

“I was in and out of psychiatric facilities. I got diagnosed pretty quickly with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression, severe anxiety. The last five years, I’ve been in and out of five mental health institutions. I’ve had three suicide attempts.

“I would come down here and get a coffee, just to come in here. When Guy [Morel, The Mind Café owner] is here especially, it was just a nice calming atmosphere. One day I was in here, and we started talking about common ground with mental health problems. He said, ‘There’s a lady here I want you to meet,’ and I was introduced to Mel [Kypri].

“Not everyone can afford psychologists and psychiatrists. Even if you can, and NSW Police have paid for a lot of my treatment, when you go there, you’re on the clock.

“Not every psychologist has had a life of mental health problems themselves. They study, and they’re good at what they do out of a textbook, but have a lot of them lived it? Probably not.

“The thing I found with Mel, is there’s no such thing as appointments. There’s no times, you’re not on the clock. In all honesty, Mel’s done more for me than any of the psychologists did for me, and I’ve been to a lot of them,” said Mr Jones.

MoWaNa safe space at The Mind Cafe

Elanora Heights local Holly Hawken had been struggling with mental health when she found MoWaNa one day when visiting The Mind Café.

“Narrabeen is like a second home, as soon as you walk into the café, you can feel the warmth of the space. I connected to MoWaNa when I came in with my mum one day and I was having a bad day. I’m always touched by the fact that mental health is accepted and appreciated here.

“I was thinking maybe this could be a place I could join in, and it would not be difficult for me because there’s awareness. I was sitting down and the lovely Aileen came up and she said, ‘Hi, my name is Aileen, I do coffees with kindness, and I just want to check that you’re okay?’

“I was honest, said no, and broke down. We chatted for about half an hour, and there was a bit of tai chi going on. She taught me a move to deflect negativity that I now use all the time. I feel that it helps me connect to myself and rebuild trust in myself and create a spiritual boundary.

“Not only did that little golden treasure of advice help me, it changed the course of the rest of my day. I was feeling really down, and then I walked out of here on top of the world. I didn’t know that talking to a stranger could be so powerful,” shared Ms Hawken.

Jeffrey Quinn, Labor candidate for Pittwater

Jeffrey Quinn (image above), who runs a tutoring business, said his commitment as the Labor candidate was a result of being made aware of MoWaNa by his students.

“I looked around for deserving groups that really needed help. As part of the Save Mona Vale Hospital Committee, I have seen the problems that we have through this area in relation to mental health.

“Through my business and students I work with, they mentioned that MoWaNa has really helped them. I investigated, and started to talk to Mel [Kypri], and the parameters that we could use to donate the money. It fit perfectly, which is why I pursued it.

“The idea of having money to train people is really important. It’s a fundamental step in getting people involved, but also qualified to be really good with people, and to be able to empathise and be part of the group,” said Mr Quinn.

Rory Amon

Pittwater MP Rory Amon (image above) was gracious in his praise of Mr Quinn for choosing to support MoWaNa, but also the critical role that MoWaNa plays in connecting to people’s day-to-day experience.

“There’s a big disconnect between people who are struggling, and formalised help that they can get through the health system. At a point in time, you might be getting help, you might be in a facility for a period of nights or weeks or months. Then you are out on your own, or you might be going to and from appointments over a period of time.

“That doesn’t help the day-to-day. MoWaNa can provide a bridge, and that community point. If we all just looked after each other, that’d be fantastic, but the reality is people often don’t know how to help or they don’t know what they can do to help people around them.

“MoWaNa provides a ‘non-structured structure’ where people can get the ongoing support they might need. One of the things that has happened over the last 200 years with the breakdown in community is people stop looking out for each other.

“This provides an ability to people who’ve never really known, or have forgotten how, to engage with others who need help, or they might have the ability to help. And so that’s why it’s really important.

“Without you telling your stories, people would never know how successful this kind of approach is. It’s a pioneering approach, and good on Jeff for hearing about it and supporting it,” Mr Amon told those present.

MoWaNa Safe Space operates from 5.00pm to 9.00pm, Friday to Sunday, out of The Mind Café at 1346 Pittwater Road, Narrabeen (on the main road near Woolworths). People who need someone to talk to are encouraged to drop in.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

Editorial note: Paul Smith and Paul Jones are aliases for privacy.

Funding boost for MoWaNa – Northern Beaches Advocate