"It's just knowing someone will be there ... So many times I've felt a depression because there was nothing in the future."
Life is better now for Mark. In 2008 he used the $1,400 he received from the Commonwealth Government’s economic stimulus package to buy an eight-track recording studio and some cameras. At home in his unit in Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, he writes his own songs – upbeat pop and jazz.
He sings, plays guitar and creates videos, which he loads to YouTube. His music occupies him intensely for many hours on most days. “It saved me heartache,” Mark says simply.
Heartache has been a constant for Mark. Diagnosed in his teens with bipolar disorder and receiving medical treatment ever since, he has struggled with relationships. A marriage break-up nearly two decades ago saw him move to the Blue Mountains to be near his young daughter, with whom he remains close.
“The time from 1997 to 2000 I spent not having anyone or anything,” Mark says. “I used to cry a lot. It’s miserable.”
Mark still lives in the same rented unit as he did then, but now he is supported under the NSW government’s Housing and Accommodation Support Initiative (HASI) program by workers from Aftercare, one of several organisations that deliver the program.
They accompany him shopping – Mark prefers not to drive – and often to medical appointments. They go for coffee or visit sites like the Minnehaha Falls or Wentworth Falls Lake.
More importantly, they offer just enough social contact to prevent Mark, who does not have friends he can visit, from falling into devastating isolation – from which it can be a short step to becoming unwell.
“It’s just that knowing someone will be there,” he says. “So many times I’ve felt a depression because there was nothing in the future.”
From time to time the Aftercare staff accompany Mark on a bigger trip – once, a day at Bronte beach, another time to a football match. These activities create lasting memories for Mark, and sometimes inspire his songwriting.
The continuing contact has helped him, “feel part of the community. I want to make a contribution,” Mark says. Now he greets tourists and assists them if he can – something he could never have considered in the past when his episodes of depression were so isolating and debilitating.
Mark says appropriate housing, and support to live in it, are essential for people who struggle long term with mental health problems. In an ideal world he would like to see residents in public housing developments better selected for their compatibility with each other – for example the establishment of unit blocks where people, like himself, who avoid alcohol could live away from the sometimes disruptive influence of those who drink.
But that is a side issue. Things are better than they have been in years for the father and musician, who now has things to do and company when he needs it. “People in general are pretty good,” he says.