Okay good people. I am back on my soap box, or perhaps I’ve never stepped down from it on this issue. I am angry. I am disillusioned. Why? Because there are so many people suffering, and there is no help available – with the exception perhaps of those with top private health cover or a trust fund. The good news is that we are, as a society, becoming more aware of mental health issues. The days of burying our heads in the sand, of putting on the party face when we are in our most vulnerable human state, are decreasing. I won’t say we are there yet as a society, but attitudes have improved.
So have the incidents of mental health increased across Victoria in the past few years, or are we just more aware of it? In part – both. Thanks to organisations such as the AFL, where celebrity footballers are speaking out about their personal experiences; thanks to increased advertisements, social media and programs in our Victorian schools – people are certainly more aware of mental health issues, and are more comfortable reaching out when they have their own personal mental health crises.
Unfortunately, mental health is not just a matter of becoming aware of our depressed state or increased anxiety. There is a snowballing effect. Through recent incidents such as the Victorian bushfires, and the Covid pandemic, people are more isolated, working less and more financially strained – all of which lead to increased stress levels, anxiety and depression. Waiting lists to visit a psychologist through a mental health plan are sometimes many months. These people cannot afford private counsellors. The result – people turn to “quick fix” solutions such as alcohol and drugs to escape the pain (which of course is the worst possible solution). As such, we end up with a society that is largely poverty struck, often homeless, drug or alcohol affected and isolated with severe mental health issues.
None of this is news to me. I deal with these issues every day. My frustration – there is simply no help available. Victoria has a huge lack of mental health facilities and is vastly understaffed. The mental health workers we do have are over-worked, under-paid, frustrated and often face personal physical danger on a daily basis at work. The findings of the 2019 Royal Commission were quite alarming. In part, the key findings were that the “Demand has overtaken capacity“, the system was “overwhelmed” and “could not keep up with the number of people who seek treatment, care and support“. Also alarming, were the findings that the “the system is driven by crisis“. With such a lack of mental health beds in Victoria, only the most critical, suicidal clients are provided with help – if they have the capacity to navigate the system. (1)
The good news from the 2019 Royal Commission, is that an amount of $492 million will be spent on updating mental health facilities in Victoria. This includes 120 hospital-based beds and 24 home-based beds in Metropolitan Melbourne and Greater Geelong. (2) Great news if you live in those areas. As for those of us that live in the Gippsland area – we are screwed. The Flynn Ward at the Latrobe Regional Hospital is often at full capacity. If you are lucky enough to be admitted, it can be a terrifying place for someone who is already suffering enough. A recent report by ABC News found that the Flynn Ward was being filled with “drug seekers, homeless and criminals…using it for a detox ward“. With an increase in violence by these in-patients – staff and other patients are being put at constant risk. (3)
From my own professional experience – I recently had a client (who shall remain unnamed) who was in the midst of a mental health crisis. Having suicidal ideations, this client presented at the Emergency Department of our local public hospital and was triaged by the on-duty mental health professional. My client told this “professional” that they were at risk of harming themselves and needed help. This person was sent home to “cuddle their dog and do some relaxation exercises“. My client’s pleas of “please help me” fell on deaf ears. Flynn Ward was full and the local public hospital deemed that this client was not “at risk“. My client was, and still is, totally alone.
This client is only one recent case. This is one of thousands of similar stories in our State. When one of these desperate, lonely people finally crack there is an outcry. I hear these stories every day. I battle with the system every day – all whilst hearing do-gooders on our TV pleading for people to reach out – REACH OUT TO WHOM????
(1) Royal Commission Report, as reported at www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health/mental-health/royal-com…mental-health-system/news-story.
(3) Emma Field and Bec Symons in www.abc.net.au/news/2018-09-07/claims-gippsland-hospital-mental-health-wing-a-dumping-ground/10209564