With some high-profile crimes linked to mental health issues, Bendigo Advertiser reporter HANNAH KNIGHT investigates the present state of the mental health system...
TREATING mental health patients is a complex field, according to Bendigo Health’s acting executive director of psychiatric services Vic Tripp.
There’s legislation that dictates what medical professionals can and can’t do, personal freedoms to consider and only 24 beds in Bendigo’s Alexander Bayne Centre – an inpatient facility for management and treatment during an acute phase of mental illness.
There are other places people can go – the Marjorie Phillips Unit, the PARC (Prevention and Recovery Care) facility and Secure Extended Care Unit – but sometimes Bendigo Health is forced to call on the statewide back-up.
“Alexander Bayne is constantly full, so is our secure extended care facility and the Marjorie Phillips Unit probably runs about 90 per cent occupancy over the course of the year,” Mr Tripp said.
“If we’ve an adult patient coming in who needs admission and we’ve no bed in Alexander Bayne, we have a look at whether there’s someone that can be moved into one of the other facilities... then there’s the statewide back-up where we can contact other health services and see what other health services have got in terms of occupancies in their wards on the state government master system.
“We can contact them and ask for a bed there.
“That’s the least favourable option because we cover up to Swan Hill, so if you get someone from there they’re already two hours away from family so we don’t really want to send them off to Ballarat or Melbourne.
“We really try to avoid that where we can but sometimes it’s just unavoidable, you just have to do it.”
Mr Tripp said there was a variety of players in the mental health system – including GPs and other community services.
“When you talk about bipolar, schizophrenia and major depression, the prevalence of those is much the same, so it’s probably about 1 per cent of the population all up,” he said.
“We (Bendigo Health) deal with only that 1 to 2 per cent of the population because we are really only a very small cog in the mental health wheel.
“We just deal with the really hard end, the really acute end.”
Mr Tripp said psychiatric services were criticised at times because of a community perception they hadn’t done something for someone.
“Often it’s because it’s not appropriate that we’re involved,” he said.
“We work within legislation – the Mental Health Act 1986 – and that’s quite clear about when we can intervene and when we can’t intervene.”
Mr Tripp said there was always room for improvement within the mental health system, but that a never-ending stream of money could be thrown into services without the desired result.
“So what we’ve got to do is work smarter with what we’ve got,” he said.
Readers needing immediate assistance or support should contact Bendigo Health’s Psychiatric Regional Triage Service on 1300 363 788 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.