Former Olympic swimmer John Konrads joins Vincentians and medical experts in taking a look back at how the treatment of people with a mental illness within the community has changed in recent years.
GREG HOGAN (Coordinator Ozanam Institute of Spirituality): The way that society has changed is that we’ve become much more individualistic and we don’t understand the importance of community anymore. Community has broken down.
DR BOB SERICH (Chair, National Mental Health and Homelessness Advisory Committee): [There is] not the same type of assistance that people used to get when they were living in a close knit community and this isolation is extended to the isolation of somebody just living by themselves in a little unit somewhere.
GREG HOGAN: Family used to be extended family. Now its nuclear family and nuclear family have broken down more and more into often one parent nuclear families. And so the sense of what a community is has shrunk.
DR SERICH: People don’t do the same sort of things as people used to do out in country towns back in the old days where everyone knew what everyone else was doing and was prepared to jump in and help when somebody was under stress. This is now a… people just don’t want to get involved, they’re too busy.
JOHN CAMPBELL (President, State Council St Vincent de Paul Society Queensland): In the old days in the bush people were… I think peopled helped each other better than they possibly do now. I mean there is still that camaraderie among people but they’re so far apart it is very difficult for them all to get together to help each other. They still have their social outings of course, but I think it’s a lot less prevalent than it used to be.
GREG HOGAN: And for many people it’s difficult to be part of a very small community unless you fit in very neatly and very nicely. Once upon a time you would fit into a very large family community no matter what. If you were part of the extended family then you would fit in. But because communities have become much smaller and because people are pursuing individual goals rather than pursuing community goals then a lot of people, you see a lot of people drop out or are dropped out of communities. And so we become very socially isolated.
DR SERICH: It’s almost like lepers back in the old days or in the days when HIV Aids came onto the market. People didn’t want to know about it because they just felt that just being in the same room with them meant that you were going to catch it and you were gone and something was going to happen to you
GREG HOGAN: The community, the community as a big community doesn’t exist very much anymore in real terms.
PETER SCHAECKEN (Consumer Consultant, Sydney South West Area, Mental Health Service, Eastern Zone): Certainly many people with a mental illness may not be aware of what services are actually available to help them .The official figures show 62 per cent or even higher of people with mental illness get no treatment at all, and even of the ones who are in treatment the majority of those are only seeing a GP.
DR SERICH: With the release of people from mental institutions some 20 years ago, and the closure of beds on top of this, we’ve found that people have had to exist in the most basic of accommodation in the community.
JOHN CAMPBELL: Now I have spoken to doctors in some of the rural towns and I ask him specifically about mental illness and how it affected his particular town and he said that he can’t, he has nowhere he can help people as far as accommodation in that town in concerned. So they have to drive another two hours to take them to another town where they can get good accommodation and be looked after properly.
LYNNE (living with a mental illness): I think its gradually changing but you’ve got to remember historically asylums consisted of people naked sort of in chains walking around a pole. So we have come a long way, but we also really need to have that compassionate human communicative element within the psych wards.
JOHN KONRADS (Former Olympic swimmer): The mental health system is under-resourced proportionate to the problem and that only really been publically known for a short time.
JOHN CAMPBELL: Twenty years ago the government decided to close all the institutions and to sell them and give the money to the community to look after the people because they thought they would be better looked after in the community. Unfortunately they didn’t pass the money over, and thereby hangs the problem because St Vincent de Paul pick up the tab for a lot of situations. We pay their medical bills, their doctor fees and things like that, so I mean that’s not being picked up by the government like it should be.
PROFESSOR GORDON PARKER (Executive Director-The Black Dog Institute): When I started Psychiatry I had the feeling we could help around 20 to 30 per cent of people. I now feel we are up around the 80 per cent. And that comprises those people where we can bring the condition under complete control, those were we can bring it within a band that the person will say that is good enough, and others where we can help significantly, where there’s a difference.
JOHN KONRADS: Up until recently because mental illness was swept under the carpet, it was swept under the carpet of politicians also, and only a very small vesiphrous minority spoke out about the need for better mental care.
PETER SCHAECKEN I think what happened just recently with the Premier Jeff Gallop speaking publically about his battle with depression, I think that’s changed the corner already for people with a mental illness.
JOHN CAMPBELL Ten years ago we wouldn’t have any mental health problems at all to visit and well if we did, we didn’t recognise it. Now we’re seeing it much more, we are seeing a lot more of it and we have to be aware of what it is. We have to find out to be able to recognise at least the basics of a mental health challenge and know what to do about it.
DR SERICH: I think this is where Vincentians have an important role. But there may not just be enough of them to fulfil this task.