Our mentally ill can no longer be ignored Print E-mail
Written by Matt Price   

Matt Price
October 22, 2005
The Australian

IT'S 10 years since the Easton royal commission ripped the guts out of Carmen Lawrence's potentially stellar political career. Lawrence was found to have lied about her knowledge of a flawed petition tabled in the West Australian parliament.

The story is complicated - Penny Easton, the subject of the petition, committed suicide in 1992, sparking a political bunfight - but Lawrence was ultimately charged with three counts of perjury. Although eventually she was acquitted, a once high-flying career has flat-lined since.

A bloke named Keith Wilson lit the spark that begat the inferno that engulfed Lawrence. Wilson was a minister under Lawrence who had retired from state parliament by the time his ex-boss jumped to Canberra. The Easton affair seemed an old scandal when Wilson agreed to reminisce about it with a journalist.

Lawrence had long denied any knowledge of the notorious petition. Wilson, plagued, he said, by a guilty conscience, insisted the matter had been raised by Lawrence as premier in cabinet before the tabling. Everything that followed - the inquiry, the political fallout, the charges, the trial - stemmed from this explosive admission.

A decade on, Wilson has resurfaced with another incendiary announcement bespeaking a second, much more serious scandal. By rights, it should run and run and run. Sadly, that's unlikely.

Wilson, almost 70 now, is chairman of the Mental Health Council of Australia. His name is at the front of Not for Service, a sad, scathing report into Australian mental health care released this week. It runs to 1006 pages, happily devoid of bureaucrat-speak. At a guess, close to two-thirds of this dangerously thick tome consists of patients, parents, carers and health professionals recounting their stories. They're desperate and frightening and help confirm the central thrust of the report, that after a decade or more of neglect by state and federal governments, Australia's mental health services are broken and failing.

The report contains story upon story documenting official malaise, maltreatment and maladministration.

Early intervention is the credo governing the treatment of all physical ailments, but mental health care in Australia has degenerated to reflect the exact opposite. Moderately afflicted sufferers struggle to convince authorities to treat them. Only when patients appear seriously unhinged, to the point of exhibiting violence or criminality, do they attract attention. Police and jails become de facto carers and clinics.

At Wednesday's launch of Not for Service, Wilson had his own sorry story to tell. He spoke passionately of an adult son, a schizophrenic for 30 years.

"For 20 of those we found it impossible to find and access appropriate care and intervention for him," he explained. Wilson's afflicted son became violent, attacking his brother and smashing up the house, prompting the bewildered, broken family to win a restraining order from the West Australian courts.

Wilson, once a state health minister, told of his guilt at not being able to do more for mental health patients. He turned to federal Health Minister Tony Abbott and made a plea that reduced many in the audience to tears: "I was angry about the system's failings, I was really angry and my anger has never abated, that's what drives my advocacy.

"The appalling state of mental health services is a national crisis and demands a national response ... Bring us in from the cold, help us to become real participants in Australian society, don't leave us as the lepers of the 21st century, untouchable, untouched.

"Minister, we look to you and your cabinet colleagues, and especially the Prime Minister, to really listen to the thousands of voices in this report. I know, minister, that you're a man who takes a high moral position as a Christian believer ... this situation is actually immoral. We have an immoral disregard for the lives of millions of Australians stricken through no fault of their own and stigmatised and left out."

The inarguable evidence from Not for Service is that the standard of mental health care has declined steadily, disgracefully during a decade of unprecedented economic growth. Instinctively, state and federal ministers blame each other.

Abbott, who can brag of an increase in funding during his tenure, essentially pleaded impotence after the launch, arguing that unless the states agreed to cede their powers to the commonwealth there wasn't much more the federal Government could do.

This is unwashed cant. As numerous frustrated mental health administrators have noted, where there's a will - national security, bird flu, skills shortages, to name a few recent issues - rival governments conspire to bury their differences and co-operate for the national good.

Until now the political cost of ignoring mental health sufferers and their families has been negligible. That may be about to change. Not for Service is simply too convincing, alarming and important to ignore.

Certainly Australia's most influential broadcaster, Alan Jones, has the sniff of blood in his nostrils. Last week, in an astonishingly aggressive radio interview with Abbott, Jones ripped into the Health Minister for refusing to adequately fund an internet site for depression sufferers.

"You're fiddling and arguing over a couple of hundred thousand dollars," Jones thundered. "I wish the same kind of scrutiny applied to the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars, Tony, that goes everywhere else. I think it's an absolute disgrace ... there is more to life, Tony, than industrial relations legislation." Abbott was reduced to babbling in his vain attempts to get a word in.

This week, Jones gave the Not for Service launch a comprehensive airing, interviewing Wilson and delivering another fearsome spray to the commonwealth.

"As I have said brutally to a federal minister not long ago when I was fighting for money for some of these people: why don't you just go out and shoot them because you're obviously not interested in caring for them? There are no homes for them, no hospital beds for them, no nurses for them ... How much longer is this indignity and obscenity going to continue?" Jones said.

Jones, of course, is John Howard's broadcaster of choice. By week's end, the PM was making noises about sitting down with the states to tackle the crisis. Wilson's second coming may amount to something yet.

The Mental Health Council of Australia

'Not For Service Report' can be found at



Jarvis Walker     Arlec

You can help NNAAMI by purchasing one of the products below:

© 2001 National Network of Adult and Adolescent Children who have a Mentally Ill Parent
Tax Deductable Reg Charity. Inc.Vic. AOO33733N ABN 41 286 047 141

N.B. All items on this site remain the property of NNAAMI. Permission is granted to duplicate and distribute any items on this site for school student purposes only provided you acknowledge the source. However, written permission is required for any reproduction or for reproduction in public forums / conferences presentations.


Contact Us


You can help NNAAMI by giving a dontation.


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 :)


South East Asia