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Royal Commission into Victoria's Mental Health System

Wendy's story*

"If half the money that was spent on other medical conditions was spent on mental health, there would be major changes for the better. There is something wrong with the Victorian mental health system. Hospitals need to be closely analysed on the way they treat mental health patients and I don’t think anyone is doing that analysis.

My daughter Madison is aged 21. At an early age, she began to show motor skill difficulties and in her early teens, she began to self-harm and developed a serious eating disorder. Since then she has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and has been hospitalised more than 50 times for suicidal behaviour. She is resistant to treatment and regularly runs away. Each time she disappears, my husband and I are afraid that she will attempt suicide again – this is an intensely traumatic experience for my daughter, my husband and myself.

I want to first commend the emergency department at the hospital; I would give the staff there five stars. The main issue is that when Madison is admitted to Emergency, she often doesn’t get a bed because she is ‘not sick enough’ and is discharged without any long-term care or follow up. Patients have to be assessed as dangerous to the community or suicidal before they are admitted to hospital. On many occasions, my daughter has been told that she will not receive treatment until she stops her suicidal behaviour. This is putting the cart before the horse. She won’t be treated until she gets better seems to be what they are saying!

Other treatment options and support for my daughter and for us as her carers are difficult to access, inconsistent, and obviously over-stretched in terms of staffing, funding and training. We applied to have my daughter placed in a secure housing unit but it wouldn’t take her. Secure housing is in very short supply and even more difficult to get into.

NDIS is another roadblock. It is a slow and complex system where support workers seem to be under-trained. My daughter keeps getting handed from one provider to another because of constant staff change over. This means that she must re-accustom herself to a new provider and start from scratch to form a new relationship with that provider, which is a very difficult process. The NDIS is always changing which is really upsetting for people who are already struggling to cope with the patient’s condition. We feel that we are constantly passed from one bureaucracy to another.

Within hospitals, Acute Mental Health Units (AMHU) are not fully secure. I would like to recommend that patients be placed under video surveillance which would make the unit safer and would take the strain off staff. Nurses are supposed to check on patients at 15-minute intervals but for various reasons, this often does not happen.

To the Royal Commission, I would say that the main thing that needs to be done is to recognise that carers are taking the main burden of looking after and treating patients within the mental health system. They need to be supported and given the tools they need to do that job.

The main needs are:

  1. Improved and increased secure housing for mental health patients. Patients need a place to go to get a complete diagnosis, treatment and housing with longer-term follow-up treatment.
  2. ‘Help Lines’ that have substance behind them and actually help patients and carers.
  3. Education for carers on how to access available resources.
  4. Better training for mental health care workers at all levels."

* Names and places have been changed to protect individuals.

Will you add your voice to let everyone know about the state of the mental health system?

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While we welcome you to share your story with us, we are not able to provide clinical advice, referrals or support. If you or someone you know require assistance or need to talk to someone please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.