Editorial: Mental health; the crisis that affects us all

Mental Health Week has produced some fine initiatives and placed some significant issues back on the public agenda, but we end it on the low note of just how much more is needed to overcome our mental health crisis.

As a society we have made great advances in awareness and science is making considerable inroads, but when it comes to support services we are still struggling with a desperately underfunded sector.

The raw end of this are the stories of desperation of the families who have nowhere to turn. There are many such cases out there.

These are cases involving acute and prolonged mental health problems and a system that simply doesn’t have the resources to attend to them sufficiently, or even keep others around the sufferer safe.

One of the biggest issues involves cases where the mentally ill reject their own condition and actively refuse treatment.

But involuntary admission is such an extreme step and the resources to back it up so scant, that frequently these cases are simply lost to the specialists and continue their precarious lives in the community.

For family and friends the threat remains.

They are akin to disturbed and disturbing “time bombs” in our midst.

Combined often with the self-medication of alcohol or drug abuse, they can potentially pose a threat to the community and themselves.

The abuse simply exacerbates the problem and potentially takes already borderline personalities into the criminal realm.  

But for those who think this is an isolated problem inflicted on individuals, it is worth thinking about the flow-on impacts of severe mental health problems.

Health and welfare systems know them all too well and struggle vainly to reroute them onto some path of normality, or contributing independence because the route problem remains unaddressed.  

Factors combine to cause an “episode”, the law gets involved and the whole ghastly cycle begins again.

Police resources are sucked up by the endless call outs for self-harm or worse, prolonged and unresolved due to the unavailability of CAT teams.

One only needs to spend a few hours in the magistrate’s courts to realise how many of these complex factors combine to derail lives and fill our prisons.

Mental illness is a national crisis. Governments at all levels must treat it as such.

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