This month of October is designated Mental Health month. After 40 years of working with people in trouble I genuinely feel that support for people with mental health issues is today worse than ever.
It seems to me that the 70’s and 80’s were times of great hope. It was then that the “new psychology” was highlighting lots of issues and beginning to understand and tackle them. Also new psychotropic drugs were freeing people from having to be locked away in mental hospitals. We all thought these new initiatives would eventually lead to a better quality of life for people who, up until then had little hope.
However, what seemed to happen over the next few years was that governments particularly saw these new drug regimes as a cheap method of dealing with people who, in the past would have been simply, expensively locked away in a hospital.
Many people including me warned that simply turfing people out of psychiatric hospitals and onto the streets with little follow up would inevitably result in homelessness and also with many ending up in goals.
I have found this happened big time.
Today, I find many people suffering psychiatric conditions use self medication to ease their psychic pain. Thus alcoholism and both legal and illegal drug dependence abound and this quickly moves disturbed individuals into the penal system. These people need to be treated as a health problem rather than being hauled before the courts. I would image countless people with psychiatric conditions would have lost their lives overdosing on some drug or other.
Many vulnerable people in our society simply need places of asylum. They are too disturbed or too psychologically compromised to be able to survive in this society without significant help. Nowhere near enough money was and is provided for centres for these people and so a great many are left to cope on their own. Many people have been moved from psychiatric hospitals to cheap boarding houses. These actually put people in worst situations than when they were in the hospital! Today, many of these boarding house clients live in squalor, too drugged to do anything about it. What’s more many are simply locked up at night every night.
I find it appalling that there is no therapeutic community in NSW! If these people need anything it’s to relate in a community where they are accepted and can help one another to deal with their demons. Unfortunately our whole current psychiatric system is so process and outcomes driven that it can’t allow for a healing time of simply smelling the roses and a sharing of innermost thoughts with others. In our reliance on drugs we have forgotten that people need time to heal.
Anorexia is a huge scourge amongst young women and now is beginning to affect young males. Yet, services available for these victims are meagre to say the least.
Here at my Exodus Foundation we come across people with the most debilitating psychiatric problems. These people need help now! Often the only way we can get some sort of help for them is from the Police. It is true new organisations have evolved such as Beyond Blue, Lifeline and Headspace and are very helpful. However forced to hugely rely on mainly public donations, most of these organisations have to live and survive a frugal existence.
And children, as usual are left to struggle at the despair to their parents.
Mental Health Month should be a time of concerted action by our community to ensure that our disturbed brothers and sisters get the help they deserve. As usual governments will be asking where the money will come from. My answer is that the money must be found now! Governments always seem to find the money when they are motivated to do something. They need to find the money out of pure compassion.
If you have a psychiatric horror story to add to my collection please contact me at [email protected]
Let’s use this month to drive change in governments approach to those most disturbed members of our community.