A refuge: Sydney’s former Callan Park Hospital. J.W.C. Adam/Wikimedia
Are mistaken beliefs about the history of mental health treatments stopping us from creating a humane system?
Alecia Simmonds 17 September 2021 1569 words
An excerpt from Troubled Minds published in the Inside Story newsletter
“Australians went into the pandemic with a mental health system that was already shattered. As the recent Victorian royal commission found, funding has not kept up with demand in Victoria, nor in any other Australian state. If you are in need of care today you are unlikely to be able to access treatment close to your home, and you’re likely to be prescribed medication rather than therapy. And if you reach out to a hospital for help, you will probably be told you’re not sick enough to be given one of the few psychiatric beds available. The threshold for accessing mental health services is impossibly high, with many people effectively told that they’re “not suicidal enough.”
If your symptoms are severe, you may be among those whose first encounter is not with a psychologist but with the police, and you may be one of the significant proportion of psychiatric admissions driven to hospital in a paddy wagon. In Victoria, you would have to wait more than eight hours to receive a psychiatric care bed, if there’s room at all. You may have been given compulsory treatment or placed in seclusion or restraint (all of which are routinely used), and you would be released not when you’ve recovered but when your symptoms have abated. Once outside, it’s likely that the women in your life will care for you, unpaid and unrecognised. Care in the community, after all, has almost always meant care by women.
Whether we are experiencing garden-variety Covid flatness (pondering whether R U OK? Day should be called R U Meh? Day), low-level anxiety about government incompetence, or depression at the interminable sameness of our days, or we have reached out for help only to receive a script for pharmaceuticals in place of a professional, we are being given first-hand insights into our mental health system. And this is leading to questions about how our system became so dysfunctional and what can be done.”
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