Getting help when needed
By MEL MARTIN
HAVING cared for a relative with a mental illness for years, Yvonne Quadros believes there are gaps in our mental health system that need addressing urgently.
"We need early intervention, suitable housing, individualised support and better rehabilitation," Ms Quadros said.
Currently, people in crisis can ring the mental illness hotline, but she says that's not enough.
"Not everyone has a carer, and they may be in such a state they are unable to make the call for themselves," she said.
"If they do ring it, they get connected to a triage service who will try to help them.
"If it's after hours, the only place they can go is the emergency department, where they have to wait their turn, sometimes for hours. Some are so traumatised, they run away.
"That's not getting that immediate help they need."
Together with Sheila Deaves, Ms Quadros set up the Coffs Harbour Mental Health Support Group, to advocate and empower people in accessing mental health services, and to raise public awareness of mental illness.
They would like to see a 24hour mental health wellness clinic set up in Coffs Harbour, independent of the hospital and accessible to anyone with a mental illness.
"This idea is loosely based on a model used in Trieste Italy, and has proved really successful," Ms Quadros said, adding it would also help reduce police involvement.
"If people in crisis had somewhere to go, they would not get themselves in so much trouble with the law," she said.
"For very sick people, our laws dictate that doctors can't go near them, police have to subdue them.
"It's a scary experience. Police may have to handcuff them, or use capsicum spray. But they're not criminals, they're sick."
She pointed to the Memphis model, where police and mental health organisations joined forces to train a specialised unit which provides an immediate and calm approach to crisis situations.
The program has seen a reduction of arrests and use of force, and a reduction of patient violence and use of restraints.
Another gap, Ms Quadros says, is in rehabilitation programs after patients come out of hospital.
"What's the point of just medicating them and sending them on their way?
"We need to make sure people can look after themselves. A lot end up homeless, many are on low or no income, and while Coffs Harbour Employment Support Service and CRS Australia do a great job, we need more."
But she says one of the biggest problems is the stigma attached to mental illnesses.
"People sweep it under the carpet, they don't want to talk about it and don't want to acknowledge or accept they have a mental illness, because it's looked down upon," Ms Qua- dros said.
"If you have a broken arm, people feel sorry for you, if you have depression, people tell you to snap out of it.
"This support group establishes new connections with people who have been on similar journeys and who understand what others are going through ? be it carers or people who live with a mental illness."