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My patience with the mental health system has run out

By joingler - 7 October 2012 31

I am posting this partly as a rant and partly in the hope it will be picked up my a polly and something will be done about it. I intend to write to all candidates for all parties before the election outlining my concerns and experiences so something can be done. I don’t want sympathy from this post. I want something done. I’d appreciate it if I could get advice on how to best communicate my issues to pollies when I write to them (leaving it too late).

Before I go on , I would like to emphasise my gratitude and thanks to the nursing staff at both mental health wards as well as my former case manager Melina from Belconnen Mental Health. All the nursing staff as well as Melina did the best they could in impossible circumstances. In particular I’d like to thank Leigh, Ally, Kevin from Calvary and the male pommy nurse at TCH (forgotten his name). The police also did an amazing job in helping me but the overall mental health system was shocking.

I started last year as a happy 19 year old guy. Due to falling out with friends and a lost job my mental health went downhill very quickly. The end result was severe depression and a few psychotic episodes.

I had 4 visits to the psych ward in 2011. A brief outline of my stays:

    May – admitted to hospital after police came to check up on me and found me stabbing myself with a knife. 2 weeks stay in PSU (TCH).

    June – missed numerous appointments and had gone AWOL. I was picked up by police who took me to the Mental Health Assessment Unit (MHAU) at TCH. This is basically the emergency room for mental health. I stayed overnight and was released the next day but had an altercation with a few police officers that night and spent the night in city watchhouse. I was then transferred to PSU for another 2 weeks stay. I have no recollection of the incident with the police at all. That night was blanked out from my memory and still is.

    September – I had been close to 72 hours without sleep. I could not sleep due to me being unable to control my thoughts. I tried all the usual tactics – classical music, meditation, Simon & Garfunkel, yoga, sleeping tablets but nothing worked. I rung the CATT team at about 3 am on the 3rd night. The operator told me “If you try a bit harder I’m sure you’ll be fine.” I then overdosed on something (probably sleeping tablets but again, my memory is quite fuzzy) and ended up in TCH again. This was after punching a paramedic in the chin while he tried to help me (if you are reading this Mr Paramedic, please accept my apology. You deserve a lot better than that). When I got to TCH I spent a week under 24/7 guard in drug & alcohol ward then was transferred to PSU. In PSU I spent 1 week in the High Dependency Unit (HDU) then was put in LDU. After 2 weeks in LDU, I told my doctor (who I’d love to name but I don’t want RA getting sued) that I felt I was getting a lot better but I’d prefer another week or so in hospital as this would help me. He agreed and promised me he’d keep me in for as long as I wanted. The next day I was told to pack my things as I was being discharged. I asked the doctor why the sudden change of mind and he said I was fine and didn’t need to be in hospital.

    I went back downhill about 4-5 days after being discharged and was taken to MHAU a few more times but was never admitted.

    December – After another overdose, I was taken to Calvary Hospital. I stayed for 6 weeks which was longer than the nurses, doctors and social workers wanted me there but I was pretty much homeless so they couldn’t really release me. My stay in Calvary was excellent compared to my 3 visits to PSU. The nursing staff there would come around once – twice a day to talk. They’d leave me if I didn’t want to talk but would stay and talk to up to half an hour if I did want a chat. The food was (slightly) better and I was allowed to leave the ward at any time to go the gift shop/cafe. The PSU was almost a jail – all visitors were searched before entering, the TV was only allowed on between 4pm and 10pm on weekdays and 9am til 10pm weekends, and I wasn’t allowed my laptop or Ipod despite the fact I could lock my room. At Calvary, the TV was allowed on all day every day except between midnight and 7. The staff let me have laptop/ipod on the condition I accepted full responsibility for it (fair enough). And no one was searched on entering unless there was suspicion they were carrying drugs or something along those lines. The nurses at PSU were nice and tried to help but they were constantly dealing with duress alarms that went off every 45 seconds due to patients strangling each other, patients families threatening nurses/doctors and also the fact they were faulty. There seemed a ridiculous amount of paperwork as well.

I do understand that PSU has to be stricter as the patients there are a lot worse. And I do acknowledge that PSU has now closed and a new mental health ward has reopened. I have not seen the new ward and am unsure if it is any better (I hope I never have to find out). But PSU  was a dark horrible place. One other patient who I was in with in me June stay told me that he found PSU to be a worse place than jail – he spent 2 years in a NSW jail on armed robbery and drugs charges. To me that signals a major problem.

The doctors in both hospitals did not appear to listen to me. In Calvary there was only 1 day where there was a doctor in the ward between Christmas Eve and New Years Day. I assume they had one on call but I am not certain of this.

After being eventually discharged from ward 2N from Calvary, I had a short stay in a few homes before moving into a home run by Mental Health Intensive Treatment Team Northside (MITT North). I am finally stable and am holding down a part time job. I live in a 3 bedroom house and I currently share with 1 other guy. I’ve been told to contact MITT if any problems occur. I get along with the guy I share with but we tend not to have much to do with each other. In the last week though his health has gone downhill. He has been hallucinating everyday – laughing his head off at strange hours, talking to himself much more than usual and writing random words on walls, tables and anything else he can find. Everytime the phone rings, he gets me to answer and to tell them he isn’t home. I am unsure who ‘them’ is but it would probably be mental health who call to check up every now and again. I haven’t thought much of it as he isn’t hurting anyone (he has never threatened me at all). But earlier today, he stood in the hall spraying air freshener into the hallway. When he finished, he got in his car and left. 10 minutes later he was back with a new can of air freshener and did the same thing in a different spot of the house. When he finished, he did the same thing. This happened 4 times in total. After the fourth time he collapsed into an armchair and started sleeping. The house does not have any ongoing cleanliness/smelly problems and I am now unable to leave my bedroom without slipping over slippery floors due to the air freshener.

I decided enough was enough and called MITT Team. There was no answer which I assume is due to the weekend. I called the CATT team who are pretty much useless but I figured I’d be better off telling them than nobody. Well it went straight to message bank. I wasn’t even put on hold, I was just told to leave a message. I left a brief message with a phone number and haven’t headr back (nearly 2 hours). I rung police but they said they can’t do anything unless he is hurting either himself or someone else. I fully understand this. It isn’t their job to be mental health workers.

The mental health system in the ACT is pathetic. All last year I had doctors (both inside and outside of hospital) that didn’t listen to me. I had counsellors tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I had the CATT team continually fail me and only managed to stay alive through sheer luck and 1 friends total commitment to see me get better. But now, I have an after hours issue and can’t do anything about it for 48 hours. Having seen schizophrenic patients before, he could turn violent towards himself or someone else very quickly and I can’t get him the help he needs.This is the final straw. I have put up with a lousy system for over 12 months but when I can

Again, I would like to say a big thank you to Melina at Belconnen Mental Health. She was a fantastic case manager, checking up on me more when she felt I needed it but less when I was doing better (and she always knew how I was). The nursing staff at both hospitals were fantastic  to me and other patients but the doctors and psychologists were lousy. The system was underfunded and understaffed (especially at PSU). Ward 2N at Calvary was a nice visit. I honestly think if they tried to replicate the way 2N is run to PSU at TCH, it would be a much better place for staff and patients. I understand it has to be more high security for some but not everyone needs that high security. I really do hope the new Mental Health Ward at TCH has allowed this to happen.

Finally as I post this, my flatmate is now pouring a bottle of shampoo down the sink. He is obviously more bananas than Phillip Pocock. But there is nothing I can do to help him.

What’s Your opinion?


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31 Responses to
My patience with the mental health system has run out
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HenryBG 3:00 pm 10 Oct 12

davesact said :

…..I hope that Quack Gupta wasn’t involved….

miz said :

…Agree with Dave about the ‘quack’ he mentioned. …

1337Hax0r said :

Yeah, be very wary of Dr Rajiv Gupta who has been mentioned before on the Riot-Act http://the-riotact.com/good-psychologist-psychiatrist-in-canberra/28568

kea said :

In response to the comment about Dr Gupta.. he is terrible.. we walked out of that appointment no better off, in fact, he accused ME of being the crazy one!

Although it’s true that people in difficulty do love to find a scapegoat, it’s interesting that the above comments accord with a relative of mine’s experience with the same bloke, too.

Chop71 2:54 pm 10 Oct 12

farnarkler said :

Maybe the ACT gov’t needs to outsource mental health care to somewhere like Kenmore.

or they could get TCH emergency to see everyone in 30mins, fudge the figures and we have the best mental health unit in the country. Problem Fixed.

kea 2:02 pm 10 Oct 12

Having lived through 2.5 yrs of hell as a Carer of someone with Schizophrenform Disorder (just one episode away from the full diagnosis of Schizophrenia) I can say that the Mental Health System is appalling.. 2 years in, I have learned what to say, how to say it, who to call and the early warning signs and am able to call on the appropriate resources.. But when it first all unfolded, it was a crash course in Psychosis..

It sounds as though your flatmate was in a full-blown psychosis and was feeling unsafe in his surrounds (for what you or I would call irrational reasons). In my experience, a person this detached from reality is unable to “bring them selves out of it”.. It doesn’t go away, they don’t level out and things deteriorate.. they have no insight into their own condition. It’s time like these when you need professional help. If you’ve never experienced being around someone when they are like this, it’s confusing, scary and generally beyond your control.. Even when you call and ask for help, if you don’t talk the lingo, the men in white coats don’t come..

It took 4 days, 25 phone calls and a drive to Sydney for me to be able to get my partner the help he needed. It wasn’t until someone told me the words to use and told me to hang up, call back and start again that we started to make some progress which resulted in a health care worker accompanied by two police officers turning up at 2 am.. finally..

In response to the comment about Dr Gupta.. he is terrible.. we walked out of that appointment no better off, in fact, he accused ME of being the crazy one! All I wanted was for my partner to receive the care and guidance that would set him on the path to recovery.

My main complaint with the system is during the crisis period, they forget that most people have never dealt with a person having a psychotic episode.. there are no process or procedure for coaching people through it, and the levels to which one needs to resort to, simply to “get help” is ridiculous.

1337Hax0r 6:48 am 10 Oct 12

Yeah, be very wary of Dr Rajiv Gupta who has been mentioned before on the Riot-Act http://the-riotact.com/good-psychologist-psychiatrist-in-canberra/28568

I’ve also heard similar complaints about the CAT team lately from friends. They have been described as hindering mental health rather than helping.

Yeah, Queanbeyan Mental Health are much better than ACT mental Health. They are under staffed, but the staff are very caring.

Lastly, I’ve heard a lot of good things about 2 mental health self help groups, the Richmond Fellowship and GROW. GROW is a self help group aimed at developing coping mechanisms, tools to deal with issues and they have meetings where they discuss problems and come up with solutions for them.

esp 12:33 am 10 Oct 12

As someone who has had dealings with the so called mental health services in Canberra, I feel your frustration. I admitted myself to the PSU only to be basically kicked out on new years eve and given a bag of medication which I stopped taking years before because of adverse reactions. I was told not to “drink too much” and given a drug and alcohol appointment for a month later. I understood that it was between christmas and new years and so staff was at skeleton level, but hey, I’d just told them I wanted to throw myself in front of a bus. A week later I ended up at my GP’s who perscribed me the medication that Ryde Mental Health had (and which had worked). 2 years on and I’m still taking it and doing fine. My advice:- take your flat mate to Queanbeyan. NSW mental health s*#ts all over ACT’s.

farnarkler 9:33 pm 09 Oct 12

Maybe the ACT gov’t needs to outsource mental health care to somewhere like Kenmore.

NiroZ 7:45 pm 09 Oct 12

Ugh, I’ll spare you my lengthy story and jump straight to my opinion. Note that these are based on my experiences in 2010.

– CATT is useless, as have been noted by other people. In all honestly, they should ax it and replace it with something else, or nothing at all, it’s worse than useless.

– The Civic/Woden/Belco Mental health centres are incompetent, mainly as the staff are overworked, underpaid and crippled by upper management. The best way to consider them is script writers. I was amazed at the poor quality of the reception (on several occasions, the receptionist forgot to tell the doctor I was there, so I could only see my shrink for 5 minutes).

-In regards to the Mental Health centres, the rotation of staff is ridiculous, probably for the reasons above. In a 6 month period, I saw 3 case managers and 3 psych registrars/shrinks. One of them had a book lying around ‘How to deal with a toxic workplace’ sitting on their desk one day.

-Ward 2n is good, as noted both others. Not amazing, the night staff are generally terrible, but overall good. PCU High intensity was excellent, Low intensity is bearable, but given what it deals with I can hardly find a fault. I was allowed my laptop/ipod in low intensity. AMC Psych ward was, well, prison, and that’s a whole ‘nother rant.

-People say psychotherapy needs to be emphasised more, but honestly most psychs I met were unhelpful (4/7), to the point of being counterproductive to my mental health in some cases. What did the trick for me was to find a shrink who was ballsy enough to give me the medication that nobody else wanted to give me, as it requires check ups to make sure it’s working. Everybody else was either incompetent (I don’t use that word lightly, the right dx and medication was out there 3 years before I was finally treated) or too busy covering their arse. The fact that I had to go to prison to finally find this guy makes it all the more sadder.

-I notice some of you have talked about the return on investment of mental health care. You guys are right in that there is no really ideal model, you can sink a lot of money into it with nothing to show, and solutions are rather thing. But do bear in mind that a good mental health system would save a lot of money. In my case, hundreds of thousands of dollars in insurance costs, multiple trips in an ambulance to the ER, multiple hospital stays and a court case with a criminal conviction. All of which could have been prevented with a generic drug, lithium. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and in reality to find a dx and treatment in 4ish years is (sadly) pretty good, but there was a moment in which one shrink had the option between two treatments (pre everything going to hell), dexies or lithium, and she decided to give me dexies on a script with 5 repeats…

unclebill 7:16 pm 09 Oct 12

Govt in Canberra has left it up to NGO’s churches & charities to look after the mentally ill probably to avoid blame. Here are some suggestions- the Mental Health Consumer Network located at the Griffin Centre can help getting you used to what happens ,they have a drop in most days from 11 till 1. If you need time out (respite) from your housing situation the Mental Health Foundation have 3 respite houses at O’Connor and Kambah for short term stays( 4 days – 2 weeks) & also have some longer term housing if you meet criteria, they also run a drop-in/hangout centre at Watson CIT called Rainbow which is open most days from 10-4. It has free internet, pool room, art-space, music room with instruments and a community garden & offers some tuition. They also have a service called PHAMS (personal helpers & mentors) which offer trained staff to help you in your personal life as well as offering that “buddy” stuff you were asking for where you can just go for a walk, talk or coffee. There are also other programs run by Richmond Fellowship, Connections (Volunteering ACT) and other agencies such as Northside/Southside/Gungahlin Community centres which could help you in some way or direct you to what you need. The best idea is to steer away from the Govt stuff as they will only drive you more crazy or depressed.

breda 11:22 pm 08 Oct 12

joingler, thanks for your response. You do seem to be focused on irrelevant details (like the psychologist) – but RA is chockers with people who focus on same.

My point is that there is no viable or successful model for dealing with mental illness that I am aware of. Simply throwing more money at the problem does not seem to help.

kakosi 8:29 pm 08 Oct 12

Leinna said :

I think we need the asylums re-opened for people who can’t live safely in the community. There were some terrible things that happened at them but now many of the previous patients are simply homeless or rely on the CATT team.

Asylums were closed due to patients being treated quite poorly, but I agree there should be long stay or permanent specialist hospitals built for people who cannot get well enough to be safe in the community.

sb14 8:24 pm 08 Oct 12

That sucks man. Two consolation points for you. Firstly, public health and especially public mental health is broken all around the country. The problem is not unique to the ACT. Secondly, its just as frustrating to work in the system as it is to negotiate it as a patient/consumer.

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