Mental health treatment needs community focus, says mother

PUSH: Patricia Thomas wants to see changes in the mental health sector.
PUSH: Patricia Thomas wants to see changes in the mental health sector.

A mother of two children with mental illnesses is calling for a change in the way health services are accessed.

Patricia Thomas has a 45-year-old daughter and a 38-year-old son who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The mental illness affects between 150,000 and 200,000 Australians. It causes disruptions to thoughts and emotions as well as a distorted perception of reality.

Because they are both adults, Ms Thomas is kept out of the loop when it comes to her children’s medical records and treatment. However, Ms Thomas said she believed it was in the best interest for everyone to involve the family when dealing with mental health issues.

“When someone in the family has mental illness we all have mental illness, we all suffer,” she said.

The medical staff may have been to university and had training to work with people with mental illnesses, Ms Thomas said, but she had the experience of dealing with her family.

According to the Black Dog Institute one in five Australians between 16 and 85 years old experience a mental illness in any year. Of those, the Black Dog Institute said 54 per cent do not access any treatment. It’s half the number of people with physical disorders who access treatment.

Ms Thomas said she would like to see Dubbo establish a community centre where the doors are open to anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness or just needs to speak to a professional about their mental health.

“There’s still a stigma around mental health, even in the mental health community and there’s still such an old approach to deal with it – we’ll sit in a room and talk about it – but you need more than just acknowledging there’s an issue,” she said.

“A lot of patients still don’t feel accepted. Mental health really needs to be part of the community.

“We need a community based centre where people can come in and see staff in a casual way. They can meet up and say ‘I’m not a patient but I’m a bit depressed’.”

Families could also visit the centre together to discuss mental health concerns, Ms Thomas said.

Of those with a mental illness who are admitted to public sector mental health inpatient services, 75 per cent improve notably.