Ghost by the Machine: The Experience of Mental Health Services Captured in Song

At just 17, Libby Offord provided lead vocals on a single by Kiwi music group Jupiter Project.

It was a dynamic pop song, titled Temporary Love, which also featured Karmadella.

It was a moment that should have shone brightly; a promising step for a young musician.

But Offord plunged into darkness, battling his own demons and struggling to gain support from public mental health services.

Now 22, she’s on the other side, feeling well enough to record and release her own music, hoping to draw attention to the struggles faced by those struggling to access the support they need.

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“Music has literally been my purpose in life for as long as I can remember. I feel like I can be more honest through music somehow,” she said.

Although a seasoned musician and regular performer at bars and events, Offord has spent the past five years battling anxiety. Music has become its own “private thing”.

Now she shares it again. She has released two songs in the past two months, All This Noise and Grass Bruise.

The latter captures in verse her experience with the crisis team and community mental health services counselors at Palmerston North Hospital.

“The main message is that a lot of people here in New Zealand are asking for help, but there is no help.

“People are very quick to say ‘just reach out, just reach out’. But when you do, you get ignored or fired.

His experience mirrors the sentiments of mental health advocate Mike King who broke down during an interview on The Rock radio station on Tuesday as he discussed New Zealand’s high suicide rates.

King, the founder of the I Am Hope campaign which raises money for free counseling services for young people through Gumboot Friday, blamed “arrogant bureaucrats” for the lack of progress in improving mental health services.

Offord hopes singing about her struggles with mental health services will strike a chord with others who have had similar experiences.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

Offord hopes singing about her struggles with mental health services will strike a chord with others who have had similar experiences.

Offord is open about her experiences with substance abuse, depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

“I’ve struggled since I was a kid because I’m on the spectrum.

“You know, there was a lot of intimidation. There was a lot of isolation. He’s been there all my life.

Offord said she had been trying to get help from the public health system since she was eight years old and felt the system had let her down.

Care was consistently inconsistent, impersonal and insensitive.

She was randomly receiving letters saying she had been discharged while still receiving treatment, and support was dropping without explanation.

“I would talk to them [the key worker] for a few months…and then I would just stop getting text messages. I would start to be completely ignored.

“And it’s happened to me probably two or three times with different key workers. I’ve been ghosted.

Offord has worked with mental health services at Palmerston North Hospital since childhood.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

Offord has worked with mental health services at Palmerston North Hospital since childhood.

One evening in 2021, Offord called the crisis team in distress and was put on hold for 30 minutes.

She asked to be admitted to Ward 21, the inpatient mental health unit, but said she was instead told to take responsibility for who she was and “it wouldn’t have bothered her.” importance if I was admitted because if I really wanted to kill myself, I would find a way”.

The hospital’s mental health services have come under intense scrutiny since the 2014 deaths of Erica Hume and Shaun Gray in Ward 21, who died less than a month apart.

WARWICK SMITH/STUFF

Owen and Carey Hume speak in June 2019 about their five-year struggle to improve mental health care since the death of their daughter Erica in 2014. Plans for a new mental health unit were announced in November 2019.

A damning review of the mental health unit found it to be intimidating and imprisoning, and while an overhaul of the ward was seen as urgent, a $30 million funding announcement in 2019 has yet to come. materialized with a new installation.

A new service is due to open in late 2024, and Hume’s parents have criticized the slow progress.

Despite the difficulties she faced, Offord was considered in her feelings towards the personal as opposed to the system.

“I know a lot of people working in mental health services are struggling because they’re so underfunded and there just aren’t enough therapists.”

With her life back on track, Libby Offord is looking forward to making more music.

WARWICK SMITH / Stuff

With her life back on track, Libby Offord is looking forward to making more music.

Offord finally got the help she needed during 18 months of private therapy, addiction support and the right medication.

She feels back on track and is thrilled to be back making music. She hopes that by recording her experiences in songs, it will help others.

“I want to create a space where people can maybe start a conversation about this and add their own experiences.

“I wish I could have people hear this song and see this video and be like, finally, someone is talking about it and knows what I’m going through.”

All This Noise and Grass Bruise are available on Spotify and Apple Music, and the Grass Bruise video is on YouTube.

Gumboot Day is this Friday. In Manawatū, David Leishman rides his bike for 40 hours, raising awareness and funds for I Am Hope. The event will take place on the He Ara Kotahi Trail in Palmerston North beginning at 4 a.m.

Where to get help

  • 1737, Need to talk? Call for free or text 1737 to speak to a qualified adviser.
  • Mental Health Foundation 09 623 4812, click here to access their free resource and information service.
  • thelowdown.co.nz Web Chat, Email Chat or Free Text 5626
  • If this is an emergency, click here to find your local Crisis Assessment Team number.
  • In case of life danger, call 111.

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