At last ? mental health hope

By ANN-MARIE MAY

YOU can't blame Kelly for being a little sceptical when it comes to promises from the State Government regarding mental health services ? as many of these promises have failed her in the past. Diagnosed with schizophrenia at 22, Kelly, now 27, has been offered more empty promises than she cares to remember. But last week's announcement that Coffs Harbour would be the site of one of four new 20-bed sub-acute mental health units has again given her hope. "If they deliver on what they have promised, the new unit will do a lot for the mental health community," Kelly said. Coffs Coast Advocate readers were first introduced to Kelly in July of last year, when she shared her story for the four-part series on mental health. Since then, Kelly has become involved with a support group that provides a network for people once they leave hospital. "The biggest problem that I have seen is with people who have had to leave the hospital because that aren't 'acute' any more, but they still aren't ready to become part of the community again," she said. "And in most of these cases, they have a relapse and end up back in hospital, starting the cycle over again." Acting director of mental health for the North Coast Area Health Service, Dr Angelo Virgona, said it's these cases that the unit would benefit. "At present there are no facilities on the North Coast that provides specialised rehabilitation for patients who have received acute mental health care, but still have some recovery to go," Dr Virgona said. He said currently these patients had to be moved to Sydney, Newcastle or the Gold Coast. If there are no beds available, the patient is either kept in the acute ward, or sent home until one becomes avail- able. "With the unit, we will be able to provide the service in-house," Dr Virgona said. This will ease the pressure on the acute beds and lessen the incidence of patients falling through the cracks. "The planning process has already begun with the new units looking to open in 2008," Dr Virgona said.



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