The election issue neither side wants to tackle Print E-mail
Written by Greg Barns   

The Age October 4, 2004

Health promises have come with much fanfare, but not when it comes to mental health, writes Greg Barns.

Iris Gray lives in a modest brick home in the working-class Hobart suburb of Glenorchy. She is 74, and frail. Her main preoccupation is her 50-year-old son, Rodney. Rodney Gray suffers from schizophrenia and has been institutionalised for much of his adult life at a mental institution called Royal Derwent in New Norfolk, about 40 kilometres from Hobart.

Since the closure of Royal Derwent a decade ago, Rodney has lived alone in a small flat in North Hobart. He has suffered malnutrition, been admitted to hospital for drinking cleaning fluid, and regularly forgets to take his medication.

Despite a letter-writing campaign to state and federal politicians, a personal visit from the former Labor premier Jim Bacon in 1998, and an article in The Mercury last year highlighting her plight, Mrs Gray has been unsuccessful in her efforts to ensure her son.

A month ago, I went to see Iris Gray and as she walked me to the front gate of her home, she shook her head, cried and said, "what will happen to Rodney when I die?"

This story is heart wrenching. As is the plight of "George", a middle-aged man whom my mother and I found crying alone in Middle Park in Melbourne earlier this year. While George sat alone in tears, at least 50 people sat literally a few metres from him sipping coffee and reading the weekend papers. My mother, who has spent more than two decades working in the welfare sector, told me George only had access to supported accommodation from Monday to Friday.

Unlike the Tasmanian forests, Iris Gray hasn't had politicians beating a path to her home to see what they can do to help her and Rodney.

And George doesn't get Mark Latham's attention when he comes to Melbourne.

When Latham launched his mental health policy last Tuesday he chose to do so in the clinical safety of a maternity ward to emphasise his fight against postnatal depression. What a pity Latham didn't head to the streets and meet some of the thousands of homeless mentally ill people who have nowhere to live safely.

It must also be said that Latham's promise of $100 million to tackle mental health is underwhelming. For a start, it seems a pitifully small amount compared with the $1.6 billion for child care Latham announced a day earlier or his $350 million for hospital emergency departments.

The ALP package does not tackle the 20-year-old running sore of the disaster that is deinstitutionalisation. There is no plan to work with the states and territories to address the damning conclusions reached by psychiatrists Carol Harvey and John Fielding in the Medical Journal of Australia last year. Harvey and Fielding wrote that the increased number of homeless people in Australia with mental illness is likely to be a consequence of inadequate implementation of the deinstitutionalisation policy and inadequate provision of alternative community mental health services.

Having made no mention of mental health in his $6 billion re-election pitch last Sunday, Prime Minister John Howard launched his mental health policy only 24 hours after Latham. Like Latham's package, it throws resources at the national depression initiative Beyond Blue and GPs, but fails to address the deinstitutionalisation crisis and is only worth $10 million more than Latham's proposals.

In short, both leaders have missed an opportunity to think laterally and recognise mental health as a national issue.

The Public Health Association of Australia, a group representing thousands of health professionals, has previously made some useful suggestions that would assist individuals such as Iris and Rodney Gray and George. They include the Federal Government actively pushing each state and territory to deliver high-quality community-based treatment, care and disability support, including rehabilitation and recovery programs and pre-vocational programs.

The crass materialism and cynical environmental vote buying of the election campaigns prevents the national scandal of the mental health crisis from seeing the light of day, except in a cursory and piecemeal way.

Meanwhile, Iris Gray battles on helping Rodney, and George has to find somewhere to sleep every weekend.

Greg Barns has been a state and federal Liberal government adviser and member of the Australian Democrats.


Jarvis Walker     Arlec

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Featured Articles

The 'Forgotten People'

by Anna Malbon from the Progress Press October 22, 1996

WHEN nine-year-old "Tom" was asked to draw a picture of himself with his mother be drew her trying to strangle him.

Tom entered the world of adults too early. If he was ever immune to the complications and pain of life that adults try to shelter from children, he says he can't remember.

Bulletin Board

I had to struggle extra hard

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I.

They only listened to her stories ”

“ I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know.”

Hi, I had a mentally ill mother. She passed away last year. I literally grew up hanging around mental hospitals because my Mom's condition was a cycle that always ends in a mental hospital. When I was younger, there was a long period when I cried my eyes out every time I was separated from my mentally ill mother because she had to stay in a mental hospital. After I grew older, my Mom's mental illness became impossible for me to bear.

Literally, my Mom's mental illness ruined my life. I think. I had to struggle extra hard for everything because of my big handicap at home. There was no support at all from anyone other than my father. Nobody else wanted to know about it. My mother's own cousin even said to my father not to bring my Mom to their place. I grew up thinking - Nobody wanted to help. Nobody wanted to know. My mother's own sister has been complaining since 2000 and her last complain was on 5 July 2014. This particular aunt keeps complaining about the same thing. That she had to take my Mom for her weekly injections and complained that my father and I was not around to do it. Then, she goes on to say that she saw my Mom beat me up with a cane. When she said that, I asked my Aunt, you saw my Mom beat me up with a cane? She said yes and than, she walked away.

I feel very sore with this aunt. Number one, the period she was complaining about was when I was still schooling and my father's and my mental health had deteriorated so badly that we had to leave the state for our own sanity. Before joining my father, I had to live alone with my Mom and my baby sister for almost a year. My aunt who lived a few minutes drive away did nothing when my Mom beat me up every day for months until my father managed to cut the red tape to remove me. My body was full of bruises and I was terrified to go home after school. Nobody helped. Not the neighbours who can hear all my mom's shouting at me, nor my aunt, nor my grandparents, nor my school's teachers. Someone should had intervened for a 12+ little girl. No adult helped. My father was trying his best to get me away to stay with him. Nobody helped him.

On XXXXXXXXXXXX, my Mom's sister let slip she saw my Mom beat me with a cane. And yet she did nothing! My aunt even had the cheek to say that my Mom beat me up because I said I wanted to go live with my father. The way my aunt said it was like the beatings were wholly my fault. What is wrong with the picture? You have a 12+ girl being beaten up daily, you are an aunt who knows something is going on and did nothing. Yet for years later you complain about having to take your own blood sister for her injections. And, I do not think she did it for longer than my own experiences. Probably only a few times because my father and I had to travel frequently to see to my mother. Due to the cyclic nature of her illness.

I have been going with my father when he took my mother for her weekly injections as a little girl, knee high, ever since I can remember. My own aunt is so calculative. There was a nurse that visits my Mom to give her her injections. But, the problem is my Mom will not let the nurse into her house that is why the intervention is needed. I have lost count on the number of times I had to go with my Mom for her injections as a little girl.

Her doctors did not bother to enquire about my father and I. They only listened to her stories and full stop. I think my Mom's doctors are the most heartless people I have ever met in my life. Until today, I do not like anyone who officially practices psychology because those doctors etc... contributed to my life being ruined. That is how I feel. I have been scolded by my Mom's medical team and they even dumped my Mom on me after I just turn 18 and there was no other adult around. And, they knew the situation. I was terrified because my Mom was a very violent. My Mom has pitched me, beaten me up, she has biten me with her teeth, she has smashed my head against the table and threatened to beat me with a piece of hard wood. I experienced all these as a little girl at the tender age of 12+ I had to learn karate to protect myself from her violent ways. And, when my Mom was home, I would lock my room's door and place a chair against it. I was that terrified of her.

All our belongings can go missing because my Mom is good at that sort of thing. You never know what is what with my Mom. It is like having a criminal live under the same roof as you.

My aunt kept repeating to me that on my mother's death anniversary I will have go visit her cemetery. I live in a different state from where my mother's cemetery is located. And, my aunt knows that very well. However she repeated her question to me until I said yes. I hate being forced to do something against my will because I have been forced to do things against my will my whole life.

My life is in ruins because of my mother's mental illness and people like my aunt is perpetuating the troubles for me after my mother's death. When I was 12+, my mother's mother said to me that it is my father's job to take care of my mother. In other words, my father's job and mine. And, they never lifted a finger to help. Just helping a little, my aunt has been complaining about the same thing for more than a decade. Unbelievable. Shameful.

Even though my father and I lived in a different state from my mother, we had to travel up and down every weekend because that is demanded of my mother. Sometimes, we had to travel after school and upon our arrival, she won't let us in and we had to travel all the way back. And, my father will not let me sleep at home as it is a school day, I had to go to school. My education was very important to my father. My mother could not be bothered if I succeeded or not.

I have seen more than any of my Mom's relatives have seen with regards her mental illness but people whom I just met behave like I have no idea about my Mom like they are the authority on her behaviour and her illness. Goodness gracious.

Despite this huge handicap in my life I persevered with my studies. My Mom did not give me any moral or emotional support at all. In fact her mental illness cycle will peak just or during my important exams. In other words, I had to deal with my exams and on top of them a mentally ill mother. By my final year in university, I could not take the pressure of exams and a mentally ill mother's break downs anymore.

When I was in my teenage years and early adult years, I was suicidal. I had to call Befrienders a lot. Thank God for Befrienders.

Before XXXXXXXXXXdate, I do not wish my experience to be experienced by anyone else because it is torture. However, after feeling how hard hearted my aunt is. A so called holy person, a church goer, rich person who has successful kids and grand kids. And, she can talk like it is my fault that my Mom beat me up and she (my aunt) had to take her (her own sister) for her injections when I was a kid. I really wish that my aunt must reincarnate as my father (a few lifes) so that she can eat her own words. If my aunt reincarnates and is put in my father's shoes, she would really deserve it. Hope she learns compassion through it all.

Why can't the world give children of the mentally ill a break? I am so fed up with all this troubles that stem from my mother's sister's attitude towards my father and I. After all shel lives a great lives. Rich live. What is wrong with these people? I really cannot stand them. This is my story.

After I wrote the above - I am more myself now, and I totally forgive my aunt and everybody who did nothing to help my father and I. And, everybody else who were heartless towards my father and I. However, I still think that by living a few life times as my father (my aunt) - would do her some good. But, knowing her character, she might become a psychopath and pose a threat to humanity. My father is a very, very kind soul. My aunt is a hard hearted, prejudiced, narrow minded, one tracked mind person.

How I cope? Trying my best to keep out of their way, and hang out with positive people. There are plenty of great people out there. Nnaami is included :)


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