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Archive for May 2014

Illness with Dignity – Treating Mental Illness as a Health Issue…

The recent announcement by the Victorian government for a $15.1 million investment over the next four years to change the way mental health, police and emergency services across the state work to respond to mental health crises in the community, deserves further analysis.

Community mental health is indeed in a crisis and this injection of money is so badly needed. Indeed it could be trebled and it still wouldn’t fix the underlying problems, such as emergency triage, treatment and supported accommodation.

Remember, it was only last year when the Victoria Police reported that they are arresting suspected mentally ill people at the rate of one every two hours in Victoria.

This followed a report by the then Office of Police Integrity (OPI), which advised 17 of the 32 people fatally shot by Victoria Police between 1990 and 1996 were considered to have had a mental disorder at the time of the shooting.

When considered alongside the fact that more than 30% of people incarcerated in our prisons have a mental illness, it is a shocking indictment on any society that permits unwell people to be either shot or thrown in jail.

The OPI report, which was tabled in State Parliament revealed:

Ambulance Victoria was not fulfilling its obligation to transport suspected mentally ill people, with police being left to handle most of them.

Police experience such long delays in getting specialist crisis assessment and treatment (CAT) teams to attend incidents involving the mentally ill that they refer to them as “Call Again Tomorrow” teams (at least they have them, there are no CAT teams in Gippsland).

Almost half the incidents Victoria Police’s critical incident response team is called out to, are related to the mentally ill.

The OPI said the closure of mental health facilities in Victoria during the deinstitutionalisation process in the 1980s and 90s – and the subsequent inadequate provision of community based mental health services – had contributed to police having such regular encounters with the mentally ill.

The report recommended changes to free up police so they don’t need to spend as much time having to deal with the mentally ill.

The then Acting OPI Director Ron Bonighton, said the suspected mentally ill people detained by police were invariably taken to crowded hospital emergency departments or police cells, resulting in very long delays for police and the arrested person.

He recommended that the State Government set up a new dedicated facility so those arrested could be immediately psychiatrically assessed and cared for.

“The establishment of such a facility could promote better care and emergency treatment for people who have an acute mental episode in metropolitan Melbourne, while easing the strain on resources that police and some emergency departments currently experience,” Mr Bonighton said.

“The benefit for mentally ill persons is that such a facility can improve the care available during times of crisis.

“For police and emergency departments there are also tangible and efficient gains.

“The time that police spend waiting for mental health assessments to occur could be drastically reduced.

“Police could return to other jobs.

“The police transport of people who appear to be mentally ill is at odds with the rights, dignity and interests of people requiring mental health assessment.

“The safety of such people warrants transportation in an ambulance to an appropriate mental health facility.

“A person experiencing a mental health crisis does not belong in a police cell. Mental illness is a health problem.

“Safe, dignified and respectful transport for people with a mental health problem happens best in an ambulance, not in the back of a divisional van.”

So here is the Victoria Police saying the obvious – mental illness is a health problem. The fact is – our society should treat people with a mental illness with the same respect and concern as we do for people suffering cancer or any other illness.



Victorian Mental Health and Police Response Initiative

The Media announcement (below) from Mental Health Minister is recognition of one of the most serious problems our communities have encountered since the deinstitutionalisation of our mental health system. Many, many unwell people, suffering psychotic episodes, have been seriously injured or killed during interventions. Many others have been denied a proper assessment, care and treatment because of a serious lack of trained people, let alone appropriate follow-up clinical services.

Consequently, far too many people with a mental illness end up in our prisons (more than 30% of our prison population have a mental illness).

One of the greatest problems facing us all is the failure of governments’, of all political persuasions, to provide on-going and supported accommodation for those unfortunate souls with chronic mental illness. This is the missing link in the chain of so-called reforms, which followed the closure of psychiatric hospitals.

The Minister’s announcement is welcome news, but until such time as governments’ are moved to provide safe, affordable and supported accommodation for people with long-term mental illness, it is a bit like the little boy who put his finger in the dyke.

Please do all you can to push this cause with all your might.


Derek Amos


Barrier Breakers Inc



$15.1 million for statewide mental health and police crisis response

  • Victorian Coalition Government funding a statewide rollout of a key mental health and emergency services initiative
  • Investment of $15.1 million for police, ambulance and mental health personnel to tailor local solutions to each crisis response
  • Coalition Government is building safer communities by driving local solutions for local needs

A $15.1 million Victorian Government investment over four years will change the way mental health, police and emergency services across the state work to respond to mental health crises in the community.

Minister for Mental Health Mary Wooldridge and Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Lucinda Nolan today announced the new Mental Health and Police Response (MHaP Response) funding for each of Victoria’s 21 Area Mental Health Services.

Funding for the initiative will be provided in the upcoming 2014/15 Victorian State Budget and will deliver a more targeted and timely response to a person needing urgent mental health support in the community, while also reducing pressure on police, ambulance and emergency department resources.

“We know that a large number of police and ambulance call-outs involve people in a critical state due to mental illness,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“Our new funding will allow mental health, police and emergency services teams to develop their own unique and local mental health crisis response.”

The MHaP Response draws on previous pilot projects in Bayside, Kingston and Glen Eira council areas as well as through Eastern Health, Alfred Health and Northern Health. These trials, variously known as PACER, NPACER or PARTS among others, brought mental health practitioners together with police to respond to a mental health crisis, rather than it escalating unnecessarily and involving an emergency department.

“Evaluations of the pilots found that people suffering an episode of mental illness were less likely to end up in the local emergency department and that police units could be released to other duties more quickly,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“Our investment provides dedicated funding across Victoria to establish a new locally-based coordinated mental health crisis response.”

This funding means that mental health professionals in each region will work with local police and ambulance personnel to tailor the crisis response to the local realities on the ground.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Lucinda Nolan said police welcomed the funding announcement.
“The commitment means we can continue to work with our health partners to provide specialist services, such as PACER units, to those people who need it most.

“It will allow us to tailor our service for those affected by mental health issues and their families, enabling us to provide timely and effective intervention,” Deputy Commissioner Nolan said.

These initiatives will ensure that people with a mental illness will receive the most appropriate and the least-restrictive care in a timely manner, minimising harm to the person and their family by being supported in their community.

This investment aligns with other reforms to front-line crisis support services underway including replacing the current Crisis Assessment Team (CAT) Guidelines with Acute Community Intervention Services (ACIS) Guidelines to reflect provisions of the new Mental Health Act from 1 July. These new Guidelines will be issued shortly.