Dear Mr Cook,
Last night, I watched a news report on the tragic events that involved three family members being murdered by their child/brother, in which you stated ‘I can certainly assure West Australians that we have services which are outstanding and which undertake the very best possible care for everyone in the community’. I cannot express the rage that flowed through me as I heard that outlandish statement. I know of dozens of individuals and families who have been failed by the mental health system in Western Australia. So where is your proof that said services are ‘outstanding’?
I have been failed by the mental health system too many times to count. I am a thirty-three year old woman who has lived with mental illness since the age of fifteen. I have bipolar disorder (type 1), severe depression, anxiety, anger issues and obsessive compulsive disorder. For nearly two decades, I have struggled with my illnesses and the effects they have on my family; erratic behaviour, suicide attempts, suicidal thoughts, homicidal thoughts and the guilt that comes along with all of these behaviours, typical of mental illness.
I have seen psychiatrists that are more interested in prescribing medication, which have awful side effects, rather than actually listening to the issues I have. Luckily I found a psychologist in my early twenties, who has literally kept me alive for over a decade. As an individual with mental illness your choices are; to be medicated to the point where you are a zombie who cannot function, or be unmedicated and lose your mind – and possibly life – because your mental illness wins.
After a mental breakdown, I had to discontinue full time work. When the last store I was employed at closed down, I found it impossible to find another job, so I became another unemployed individual on the Newstart allowance. As a requirement of receiving this payment, I have been attending a work placement provider, who specialises in disability support services. One of these so-called helpful employees told me to ‘suck it up’ when I tried to explain to her that I couldn’t work full time and remain sane. Even with letters from my psychologist, psychiatrist and general practitioner, it wasn’t good enough. I’m sure you can appreciate how telling someone with severe mental illness to suck it up would send them off the deep end; especially when they have anger issues and feel completely useless at the same time. Not only did I harm myself, I damaged personal property, abused my loved ones and became a terror to those I care about.
The mental health system in our state is an absolute joke – at best. Honestly, it’s horrendous. I have been turned away from a general practitioner because my mental illness was just ‘something I had to learn to live with’. I have been turned away from the hospital when I was suicidal and homicidal because mental illness is ‘not a real medical illness’. I have been told to ‘think positive’, ‘focus on the good things’ and (again) ‘suck it up’.
You might ask ‘if our mental health system is such a joke, how are you still alive?’, well the answer is luck. Pure luck. I have failed several suicide attempts and I have incredibly supportive parents, who allow me to live in my childhood home and burden them financially and emotionally in what should be their empty nest years, where they enjoy each other’s company. If it weren’t for them I would be dead.
The mental health system of WA has done nothing for me. And I’m one of the lucky ones.
There are no retreats or facilities we can attend where we aren’t locked away for hours a day, unable to come and go freely. There are no opportunities to help us regain our independence. We are forced to live with relatives or friends who essentially become our unpaid carers and have to deal with the repercussions of our disability. Apologies, I’ll correct myself, mental illness isn’t a recognised disability in Western Australia – or Australia.
As mentally ill individuals we are basically able to be locked up in an isolated ‘treatment’ facility where we will be medicated so heavily that we cannot function properly and become shadows of our former selves, or deal with it at home, where we cannot access he required resources.
I am now trying to reclaim my life and continue studies which I had to cease in my early twenties – yes, due to depression and an unsuccessful suicide attempt – with the mere $500 a fortnight payment I receive. Needless to say it doesn’t work. All of my funds go to medication, specialist appointments, study materials and food to survive. I currently live on a $300 a week deficit. I am taking money from my parents to buy any clothing I need, doctor appointments and even my psychology appointments; which I should be attending weekly but cannot afford to, so I attend monthly. I cannot afford to socialise, go on holidays (even just for a night) or do any of the fun things that a woman in her early thirties should be doing.
Where is the support of this so-called outstanding system? Nowhere to be found.
After watching you blow smoke up the terrible mental health system of ours in the wake of the tragedy, I felt I could no longer sit idly by. I am one of the lucky ones. Countless individuals have lost their lives because of mental illness, either their own, a loved one’s or a complete stranger who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So, please, stop defending the system to the media and actually do something to fix it. Make the system one which works and provides assistance for the ill and vulnerable.
Help those who cannot help themselves.