Government action on mental health

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My name is Natasha Flynn. My son Liam Thomas Flynn tragically took his own life at the age of 20.

Two and a half weeks before he should have been celebrating his 21st birthday, after many attempted admissions to emergency departments in our public health system, where staff are overloaded and resources too depleted to provide admission and ultimately, care, my son tragically ended his own life.

My son put his hand up for help. He was intelligent, articulate and a beautiful soul that helped so many people that were struggling with their own battles. My boy lost his own battle with depression and I know that if he was provided with adequate care and Liam’s attempts at seeking help were listened to and resources were available, that the outcome could have been so much different.

Liam was given a referral for emergency drug and alcohol rehabilitation (substance abuse and mental health issues often occur concurrently) by his psychiatrist and my son was determined to find the help that he deserved as a human being.

Liam knew his human rights. Instead, he sat for 8 Hours in Campbelltown hospital with a referral stating that he needed emergency drug and alcohol rehabilitation and was denied admission due to lack of bed availability, despite his referral clearly stating that he was vomiting blood from alcoholism. He returned the following day, as instructed by overloaded staff, only to sit for 10 hours awaiting the care that he deserved and he was denied admission for a second day in a row, as there were still no beds available for him to receive the help he needed. It is a tragic story of someone that followed the guidelines of saying they were not ok, and this statement, repetatively fell on overloaded ears.

After the court had ruled that my son couldn’t live at home due to his outbursts, Liam reached out many times, with similar outcomes & my boy ultimately stopped reaching out to our overloaded hospital system to tell them “he was not ok & wanted to end his own life” & whilst overloaded clinicians took notes and allowed my son to pour his heart and soul out, he was advised repetitively that there just wasn’t capacity to admit him. My son gave up trying after around 1100 pages of clinical notes were taken about how terribly he was suffering, Liam ultimately decided to end his own life on the 18th of June 2018. 

He didn’t reach out that day. He just gave up. He had so many futile attempts at seeking help and was turned away so frequently, that he had lost faith in our hospital system & I know that if he had received care at the times he needed it, that so many lives would be so much different now.

Many people have been impacted by his loss. It has led to the trauma and suffering of so many others. This impacts our not just our psyche, but it also impacts economies, families and has far reaching implications for us as a society. Quite frankly, it is inhumane.

We continue to lose young souls, that know that the system isn’t working. Liam was the life of the party, the bear hugging, gentle giant that was wise beyond his years and he knew how to articulate his suffering. He put his hand up for help.

He had a family and friends that loved him dearly. He just got sick of being ignored and told that there was no availability to provide care for him, in an overloaded system. I met with the previous minister for mental health, last September; Tanya Davies, who has since moved on. I met with our local member, who was Liam’s paediatrician. I spoke to the mental health commissioner; Lucy Brogden at the innovations in mental health forum at UTS last October. I requested a coronial inquest, which is still pending, to highlight this issue, but enough is enough. Too many lives are being lost.

I call on the Australian government to provide resources that are fairly distributed where they are most needed, particularly our lower socioeconomic regions and regional areas, as we are losing far too many young lives to suicide.

Suicide is the number one cause of death in the 18-45 year old age bracket in Australia (if you take into account ‘accidental poisoning’). We have a national crisis on our hands.

Too many young lives are being lost in amongst a drastically underfunded and overloaded public health system. It is totally unacceptable and it is ‘not Ok’... so I would like to know how the government can justify turning people away from hospitals due to lack of resources & isn’t adequately addressing the fact that people are unable to access emergency healthcare when we need it.

If help was available, I know my son would have most likely put his hand up and reached out on this very dark day, but he just gave up & I hold our government partly responsible for their lack of adequate funding towards resources for clinicians and hospitals to be able to provide care for those who need it most. 

If a patient with a referral due to vomiting blood is unable to access care, then something is drastically wrong with the health system.

That patient was my beautiful boy and he is no longer here to put his hand up and ask for help, so I Natasha Flynn (Liam’s Mum) ask you, our ministers & government what you intend to do to help provide the desperately needed funding to address this crisis?

I know that the expansion of the new mental health wing at Campbelltown hospital will cater for patient requirements in 2016, upon its completion in 2021, so is not going to be able to provide adequate care for those, like my son; Liam, need it. Desperately.

My son was treated with amazing care as a paediatric patient, but as an adolescent was treated in a transactional nature as a young adult, with no continuity of care, by the treating Doctors in mental health. If there was some ‘ownership’ of his case, we would be having a very different conversation and my son Liam would be actively asking you these same questions.

On Liam’s behalf, I beg you to provide additional resources to provide our overloaded clinicians with an environment in which they are able to provide the equivalent of patient care.

It is unfair to allow staff that are well trained and dedicated to be operating in these conditions, where they are unable to perform what they are trained to do.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is famously quoted as saying ‘first do no harm’, these interactions hurt my son deeply and it is terribly unjust. It did harm him. He opened up and was turned away. Time and time again.

I want change. We all do. It is glaringly obvious that we need change, that goes far beyond beuracratic ‘strategic frameworks for suicide prevention’ and changes in ministerial leadership within our government & looks at the fundamentally basic rights of humanity.

We don’t need more facilitators directing people to services that are already at capacity, we need more staff in our hospitals that are trained in mental health care. We need to identify the systemic causes of this national crisis and address them.

We need a sense of connectedness and community, not a division of regions by tax revenue that receive imbalanced funding. We need a strategic framework of community and humanity, because the humanity in healthcare quickly dissipates under the constraints of an overloaded clinician, attempting to address the needs of many, with no resources to do so.

Provide adequate funding for our hospitals to operate as functional healthcare units. This is not a third world country. We have resources that are squandered on defence, sports and we still can’t seem to be able to master the most important thing that most cultures need... and that is quite simply ‘care’... in the most simplistic terminology. We need you to care. Address the crisis in our hospitals and provide care that is much needed, to prevent other families from experiencing the devastating loss that we have all endured. That loss, will not be in vain. I made a promise to my boy and I intend to keep it. 

Provide adequate funding for our public hospitals, that is based on population growth, socioeconomic needs and is capable of handling patients that need drug and alcohol rehab and mental health treatment for patients in crisis.

The courts seem to find a way to place people there, to reduce their sentences for drink driving, so why can’t our hospitals provide admission for those that really want to get well? I know Liam did. The system just failed him time and time again. He never got his drivers licence. He never got married. He never had children.

But he did lose his ID from being robbed on the streets and spent three months relying on the charitable donations of good hearted somaritans, when Centrelink couldn’t pay him, because he didn’t have ID (the police still have that, because I asked for a coronial inquest, over a year ago). Fix our hospitals.

Liam’s Mum.

Natasha