Jeff Kennett, former Premier of Victoria, founder of Beyond Blue (a bi-partisan organisation offering multiple supports for those suffering from depression and raising awareness of the condition) has stated for almost a year that the Victorian Mental Health System is in Disarray.
Some major parties now recognise that the system needs fixing. How long before something is done? The situation is critical and needs addressing now.
We don’t need multiple inquiries, multiple committees, multiple think tanks. We need action. Mental health patients are suffering!
I have met with several general practitioners and psychotherapists who for more than a year have been in despair with regard to the system.
That system is not integrated. A general practitioner resides in his surgery with a complex, chronic case and does not know to whom he should refer him/her. Moreover, some have no lists of psychotherapists, psychoanalysts or psychiatrists or have a list but are aware of the limitations of some of these ‘experts’.
As with everything, it’s a matter of shopping ‘round to find the right practitioner. Not everyone is in a position to do this!
My experience has mainly been in the private health system and believe me, it has not been ad hoc. Some of what I have experienced has been downright degrading: traumatic experiences with male psychiatrists/psychotherapists in particular. These men were power-hungry, ego driven maniacs who perceived me, an incest survivor suffering complex trauma disorder, as lacking self-esteem, vulnerable and open to exploitation or even abuse. They continue to practice. The situation would worsen when they discovered I could be non-compliant and non-deferential. Fits of extreme anger on their part and dreadful ‘put-downs’ would follow. I will not detail these experiences here but it’s worth a book!
I have terminated sessions after 15 minutes on two occasions with two different psychiatrists when it became clear they were inept or willing to engage in ‘diminishing’.
My experience of the public health system was much worse. I was admitted as a private patient into the Neuropsychiatry Department of the Royal Melbourne Hospital, a public facility, in September 2016. I was suffering severe depression and anxiety. My condition of complex trauma disorder had not been diagnosed at this stage and was not diagnosed until October 2018.
A psychiatrist had referred me for an accurate diagnosis which included MRI scans, SPECT Scans, Psychological Testing, Intensive Interviews with Psychiatrists, Blood tests etc.
I was surrounded by people with severe neurological and psychiatric conditions which was disturbing in itself.
The ward was shabby. In the common-room section were couches which were ripped apart. On attending at the nurses’ station, I was informed that I would have to knock on the window to gain attention as the door was locked. When I inquired why I was told that a patient could attack a member of staff if the door was left open. To me that was a ludicrous proposition.
So, one would knock on the window and a nurse would respond if they felt like it! Often you were left standing while you were treated with ignore. The nurses, I believe, were ‘Agency’ nurses engaged by the hospital and with a diminished sense of responsibility. Some were inept.
On one occasion, I reported to a nurse that my anxiety levels were high. Not totally proficient in English she responded, ‘Why are you so anxious? Just be happy.’ Words failed me! I wanted to leave the hospital but persisted in remaining. I had become curious and wanted to know where the situation would lead. Nurses made many mistakes when I requested assistance and were also lacking in empathy and understanding; without the knowledge to really help anyone.
There was a general practitioner on duty part-time – a very beautiful young woman aged about 30. I had not slept at all for three nights running and requested at 10 a.m. one morning that she consult with me. She responded that she would see me after 1 p.m. I waited in the common-room from 1 p.m. where I could see her working on her computer (and she could see me) until 4:30 p.m. before she saw me! Her decision was that I required Cognitive Behavioural Therapy even though she did not have permission to analyse or diagnose me at that level. I had to beg for tranquilisers which she finally dispensed. My time with her was degrading. Again, no empathy and complete condescension in attitude.
This was the prevailing attitude. Psychiatrists and Psychologists would attend for interviews and testing and then disappear leaving one in a sea of sorrow with these ‘Agency’ nurses.
Radiology and Nuclear Medicine staff in another area of the hospital were wonderful: supportive, empathetic and engaging but then one would have to return to what I began to call ‘Siberia’!
Finally, after rigorous testing, I went before a panel of eight professionals to receive the verdict on my condition.
In a traumatised state I presented before this panel.
I was informed that I had cholesterol deposits in the tiny blood vessels of the brain which were causing the depression and anxiety and that there was nothing they could do! All they would advise was that I could minimise future damage by diet and exercise. I was devastated. No hope!
I was leaving the room when the head female psychiatrist approached me and said she would show me on her computer the cholesterol deposits as indicated on my MRI scan. While doing this she said ‘I am a bit phased, I have just returned from Singapore and only had three hours sleep on the plane.’ I thought to myself, ‘So this is what I deserve, a psychiatrist who is only half awake juggling with my life and future.’
It was many many months before I was later informed by other medical experts not related to the Royal Melbourne Hospital that this diagnosis was not correct and there were many options for future healing.
This is an example of the sorry state of the mental health system. It’s the tip of the iceberg!
I had the funds to keep persisting in research; to keep requesting of general practitioners that they find experts in the field and refer me to them.
Can you imagine what it is like for the disadvantaged? Those with limited English? Those on social security? Those of a different ethnicity and the indigenous? I hate to think.
And, if the Victorian Mental Health System is in disarray, can you imagine what the System is like in the Northern Territory and other parts of Australia?
This situation is very serious and needs to be addressed immediately.
Dianne Helen Edwards
Footnote: Future articles will address other injustices in the mental health system, including private clinics worth billions with staff who make shocking mistakes and rip off patients for financial advantage.