ABC TV's Australian Story program on Monday 5 March reported the heart-breaking story of Adam Salter, a man with a history of psychosis, who was shot and killed by police in November 2009 following a call made by his father that he was trying to stab himself.
Full details of the story can be found here.
The police involved on the day and in follow-up investigations of the matter were criticsed by the deputy state coroner of NSW at an inquest into Mr Salter's death in 2011.
Mental health advocates have described Mr Salter's medical and psychological treatment as a "failure of care".
While this is an extreme example of how mental health issues are not always dealt with well within the community, it is not an isolated incident. It has been well documented that mental health continues to carry a stigma within the community and does not always receive the same level of care and attention as physical illnesses. In Mr Salter's case, he was admitted to a mental health facility during a psychotic episode in 2008 as an involuntary patient and discharged without follow-up by the community mental health team and without his family being advised of his high risk of relapse. He is not alone. A Mental Health Council of Australia report, Consumer and Carer Experiences of Stigma from Mental Health and Other Professionals, which reports the results of a study of 400 mental health patients and 200 carers, found that 29% of patients reported feeling shunned or avoided by health professionals. Fourty-four percent of the carers believed that doctors behave differently towards patients when they find out that they have a history of mental health issues. Close to three quarters (73%) of the respondents said they had experienced stigma or discrimination in the last 12 months because of their mental illness.
Mental illness is not uncommon. One in five Australians suffer from a mental illness. The impact of mental illness is felt by the sufferer, their family, friends, workplaces and the broader community. It is important that mental health is treated seriously and that appropriate care is provided, including follow-up, appropriate referrals, case management and consultation with the family. An important component is community education.
We here at ANTS certainly recognise the importance of mental health and of educating the community. We run Mental Health First Aid Training programs to help increase knowledge about common mental health problems and to teach people and organisations to deal with mental health crises.
To learn more about our programs and our services more generally, contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.