I Am Frustrated By The Mental Health System In Australia

My husband and two of my children have mental health issues.  My husband is much better now, but my eldest son is having a real battle with his ocd and depression.

When we lived in New Zealand there were brilliant mental health services.  I didn't need to leave the home.  There was a 24 hour hotline, and whatever the issue was, a psychiatrist and/or psychiatric nurse would visit you and assess the situation.  Not only that, they could prescribe and administer medications.  Not only that, they would come back later to see how things were going.

When my husband was at the peak intensity of his illness His psychiatrist told me that any time I felt I needed a break he was only a phone call away and would pick my husband up and take him to the psychiatric ward.

The psychiatric ward was designed in such a way that patients could leave at any time.  There were plenty of escape routes.  But patients didn't leave.  It was a calm, relaxing, therapeutic environment and when you visited you would see patients chatting together over a cuppa.  It was great therapy and when my husband did get admitted he was happy to stay a week.

Now Australia.  Good luck even getting access to a psychiatrist.  Too bad if your child is psychotic or catatonic.  The only way you will get the slightest bit of help or support is if he is trying to kill himself or someone else.

Wait 5 hours for a triage because as far as the triage nurse is concerned, you're not really sick.  If he's a nice kid it doesn't matter how sick he is or how much help you need handling him; they will not admit him to the psyche ward.  I haven't seen a psyche ward here, but from what is portrayed, it is more like a prison ward.

And they don't tell you what's going on .  Most of what I've learnt has been from what I've read.  It would be extremely helpful to know, for example, that most people who have psychotic episodes only have one or two if they are treated early.  Clearly this sort of information is too complex for a parent to handle.  Or perhaps they just don't care?

And don't you love the attitude towards severe panic attacks. 

Mental health crises are always emergencies and it's about time Australia got its act together on helping families to deal with them.

perseverer perseverer
56-60, F
5 Responses Feb 13, 2010

I appreciate telling us about all this. It sounds absolutely terrible. It's shocking to see how totally different things are between Australia and N.Z. I wish I could compare Canada's system, but I haven't had to interact with it as much to get the help I need. My doctor had me go through one group that mailed me lots of booklets and exercises to help deal with my depression, but mine is a pretty mild case. Years ago a girlfriend was admitted to a psychiatric hospital to help cope with depression, but the standard treatments weren't effective because she was mildly autistic as well. It took over one year for her to get better, and it was really frightening sometimes to see how terrible she was doing (catatonic, no appetite, and so on). It was all I could do, sometimes, to just sit with her during my visits. Sometimes I'd bring a book and read to her.

The health system in Canada is overworked and short-staffed. God help the individual who has to go into emergency in the middle of the night. I've been lucky that my doctors have always helped me with my depression. I imagine there are some not so sympathetic, though, as other people have stated in their own stories or comments.

For what it's worth, I am so sorry for the hardships you face over this. I hope your son will get the treatment he needs and can recover. Seems like when something really serious like this happens there's never an easy solution, is there? I'm sending my well-wishes your way.

Thank you for reading this and sharing your thoughts. My son is also catatonic. Benzodiazepines, used to treat catatonia, cannot be used with autistic patients, which made it very difficult for your former girlfriend. From my reading on the internet I learned that catatonic patients must be intensively stimulated to physical exercise, social interaction etc so I hired a full time carer for my son and that made all the difference to him. But it is a shame this was never mentioned by the psychiatrists. Three years since the onset of catatonia, my son still has psychotic episodes that end in catatonic stupors.

Since I wrote this story, I have become more familiar with the system here. There is a certain protocol and language one has to use ... but I had to learn this through experience. No-one told me.

It's perverse that language actually became a barrier while you were learning what to say and what not to say. I'm imagine that added to your frustration levels, at least until you caught on. That sort of thing would make me tear the hair from my head.

I literally did that - tore the hair from my head! And wept copious tears, and wrote some pretty memorable letters to certain people!

EccentricOne, I am very pleased that you have had no trouble getting on to the ward. But that is not my experience. Not by a long shot! To be admitted here, you have to be either in the process of trying to kill yourself, or trying to kill someone else. I will admit that once and once only, my son was admitted because, in a catatonic stupor, he had lost his ability to walk. Only they never told me what was wrong with him. I had to learn that on the internet. And he was on the regular ward because they felt that the psyche ward was not a safe enough place for him. The state of Victoria has serious shortcomings when it comes to Mental Health. <br />
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Thank you for reading this and troubling to comment. it is interesting that in the same country, experiences of the system an be so varied.

Having to deal with depression myself I understand your frustration. Though thing's are improving somwhat here in the state's it still has a long way to go. If many had gotton the help they needed when it was needed and ask for, they might still be alive today. My Best.

You might be interested to know that on a recent visit to triage my catatonic son was made to wait for 8 hours in the waiting room, and another hour after getting on to the ward, where he was treated in the most patronizing and unhelpful way possible.

Wow. That is some fabulous care you got there. However it isn't so bad (the triage and ER) here as for getting into the actual ward. They get you in and in quickly. The staff sucks (the patient care techs) in the actually hospital but the docs are ok. Now the psychologists, that is a different story!