With some high-profile crimes linked to mental health issues, Bendigo Advertiser reporter HANNAH KNIGHT investigates the present state of the mental health system...
A BENDIGO couple say they are stuck in a never-ending nightmare.
Michael and Rose, who did not want to reveal their last names to avoid tipping their mentally ill daughter over the edge, have been walking on eggshells for more than
They watched their once-happy daughter, Louise, spiral into the deep, dark depths of depression after she left school at 16 to start a hairdressing apprenticeship.
They say she was badly bullied, with one of the worst incidents including finding her sandwich stuffed full of hair, and trace her problems back to that time.
Louise began self-harming, she tried to take her own life, and as her condition worsened, she began to push away her loved ones.
Louise is now 38 and has a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, a broken marriage, no friends and a long list of suicide attempts.
Michael and Rose, who are both in their 60s, say they have lost count of the number of times they’ve found their daughter close to death after a prescription drug overdose.
They say there are huge gaps in the mental health system – that there should be stricter medication controls, better integrated services, and, more importantly, an understanding that their daughter has a “mental injury, not a mental illness”.
Michael and Rose wanted to share their story after reading a recent report in the Bendigo Advertiser about a mentally ill woman who was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment after making repeated nuisance calls to emergency services.
Magistrate Terry Wilson was sympathetic to the woman’s condition but explained that he was out of options and the best place for her to get the support she needed was in prison.
Michael described the situation as disgusting and blamed what he described as our nation’s lack of a functional mental health system.
“I don’t want that to happen to anybody with mental illness, that they get locked up, it’s just crazy,” he said.
“It’s not right. The whole system is wrong.”
Michael and Rose describe their life as like being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, waiting to pick up the pieces from their daughter’s latest meltdown.
They’re thankful she doesn’t have any children because they would be left to look after them, but they’re concerned about who will look after Louise in their old age and after they’re gone.
“I choose the people that I want to talk to about it with because people can’t understand it,” Rose said.
“People say, ‘Oh, why is she doing that, attention seeking, is she?’ I feel like slapping some of them. As if you would do that to yourself – she’s really, really sick.
“It’s just a terrible illness she’s got.”
Michael still struggles to talk about the time he had to commit Louise against her will. “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said.
“At that particular time she’d actually done some severe cutting and a really bad overdose.”
The couple said one of the mental health system’s biggest shortcomings was the lack of follow-up care.
They said once health professionals had treated Louise’s physical problems she was more often than not back out on the street the following day and left to her own devices.
There were follow-up calls, but the couple said their daughter was cunning and told the doctors what they wanted to hear.
“She reads up so much on the internet that when she’s with a psychiatrist she can tell them exactly what they’re going to ask her and she quotes the law to them so that they just can’t outfox her,” Michael said.
He also believes there should be stricter medication control for mental health patients so that they can’t overdose.
“And one of the biggest problems mental injury people have is to have to keep repeating over and over again how it all started, their mental impairment,” he said.
“So what happens is they get so frustrated, so
angry, that they end up walking out without getting treated.
“They’re so sick of repeating their story over and over again.”
Michael wants our politicians to push for better mental health outcomes, while Rose believes more thought needs to be put into the possibility of supported, supervised housing for people like her daughter.
But, whatever the future holds, they’re resigned to the fact that they’ll never really get their daughter back and that her illness is here to stay.
“Some people say it’s such a waste of a life but I say I don’t worry about that anymore,” Rose said.
“I just worry about one day at a time.”
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.