Help to ease the burden

Two Latrobe Valley mothers whose sons were killed in road crashes are calling for increased road trauma counselling services for regional areas.

Lisa Cook and Carola Atkin spoke out about their experiences in the hope of attracting more government funding to support those who are grieving their loved ones.

“You go through so many realms of grief from total and absolute despair, it’s like an ocean of waves,” Carola said.

Carola’s son Peter, 30, died after he was in a road crash in Melbourne in September 2013.

She sought the assistance of free, Melbourne-based counselling service Road Trauma Support Services Victoria.

“They offered me phone counselling, which for me was a good way to go,” Carola said.

The service was a major help to Carola, however, she said phone counselling might not work for everybody.

“Some people find they need to have that personal connection with a counsellor,” she said.

“It makes it more of a human experience.”

Lisa said she needed face-to-face counselling.

“Everybody’s a little bit different,” Lisa said.

Her son Eden Renfrew died in February this year following a single car crash on the Morwell River Road while on a camping trip with mates to celebrate his 18th birthday.

She said her family was offered counselling funding by the Transport Accident Commission, however she said by that time, she had accessed counselling through her workplace’s employee assistance program.

Lisa highlighted that the TAC funding was not available to people outside the immediate family who may have also been affected.

State Member for Morwell Russell Northe, who is the chair of the local L2P program and a member of the local Shine a Light on Road Safety campaign spearheaded by Carola, said road trauma services were primarily based in metropolitan Melbourne, despite regional Victoria having more fatalities and serious injuries than the city.

“Road trauma counselling services are very specific,” Mr Northe said.

“They’re from experts who know this field inside out. And it’s imperative people are able to access those services directly and personally and not have to travel to Melbourne.”

Carola and Lisa are of the understanding that, in Gippsland, RTSSV provides telephone counselling, rather than local face-to-face counselling.

When The Express telephoned RTSSV for comment on Friday and was placed on hold, a recorded message – which explained what RTSSV does – listed the Latrobe Valley among locations where face-to-face counselling is offered. The Express has lodged multiple requests with RTSSV for comment or information to clarify whether it does in fact offer face-to-face counselling services in Gippsland, however it has provided no response.

RTSSV is funded through public donations as well as through government.

A TAC spokesperson said it provided $450,000 to RTSSV “to provide a telephone counselling service to anyone in regional Victoria who has been affected by a crash”.

“Helping those affected by a crash to get their lives back on track as soon as possible is the main priority for the TAC,” the spokesperson said.

“Qualified grief and trauma counselling services are already widely available throughout regional Victoria and the TAC will pay for families of anyone who has died or been severely injured on the state’s roads to access these important services.”

The spokesperson said the TAC funded face-to-face counselling services for its clients experiencing mental health issues as a result of crash-related injuries and these benefits were not capped.

“The TAC will also pay reasonable travel expenses for anyone who has to travel to access grief counselling, including those in remote areas” the spokesperson said.