A $4 billion question of priority – Dental or Mental Health?

It is time for all those Australian families whose relationships and lives have been wrecked by mental illness to question Australian federal and state government priorities. Today the federal government announced a $4 billion boost to dental care.

No matter how worthy it might be to prevent dental caries for the children of disadvantaged families, this problem is not within a bull’s roar of the mental health problem throughout Australia. Not a day passes without a new tragedy erupting.

On April 16 2011 41 year old Shane Clark without provocation stabbed to death the stepfather of his former girlfriend after being discharged from the Royal Adelaide Hospital in spite of threatening suicide or murder.

A superb article written by Brett Williams the associate editor of the SA Police Journal, and reproduced in the Sunday Mail highlighted the courage of Constables Brett Gibbons and Travis Emms in attending a murder scene at Hectorville at 2:30 am also in April 2011. Three members of the Mombers family were killed by their paranoid schizophrenic neighbour Donato Corbo. Severely wounded were  the two policemen and teenage son Marcel Mombers.

30-40 years ago, Adelaide had sufficient beds in dedicated hospitals, and a policy that allowed for the certification of those who needed to be compulsorily detained for treatment because they posed a threat to themselves or to society.

Advances in the therapy of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia have allowed many patients to be integrated back into society but the outpatient supervision of mental patients has been futile in preventing such episodes.

It is one thing to cut the numbers requiring expensive institutionalization, but the policy of progressive closure of beds offering specialized care has now been carried to the point that general hospital beds have to be used, and patients are repeatedly discharged home at times of crisis due to bed shortage.

Because of the deficit, some patients are currently being held in Flinder’s  Emergency Centre for 4 and 5 days waiting for a bed.

Our police force provide perilous default resolution of such emergencies; they are not trained to handle the mentally ill, but do their best with great courage.

I will vote for the party which gets its priorities right, and commits to improving mental health care. I’m sure others will too.



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