Mental health patients reveal 'distressing' experiences

Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright said many mental health consumers felt concepts such as compassion and humanity were lacking among mental health staff.
Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright said many mental health consumers felt concepts such as compassion and humanity were lacking among mental health staff. Geoff Potter

A STATE-WIDE review of the mental health system has arrived on the Mid North Coast, following the horrific death of an inpatient at Lismore Base Hospital earlier this year.

The NSW Government announced an independent review of seclusion, restraint and observation of mental health patients in NSW hospitals earlier in May in response to the ordeal of Miriam Merten, who died from a brain injury after she was left alone, naked and covered in faeces.

As part of this review a number of community consultations have taken place in cities and towns across NSW in order to record the experiences and ideas of those who have a mental illness, their families and carers.

The State Chief Psychiatrist Dr Murray Wright, who is heading the review, arrived in Coffs Harbour yesterday.

"We all saw the shocking video of Ms Merten in the Lismore Inpatient Mental Health Unit,” he said.

"That was a deeply distressing video, and one of the reasons this review has been established is to ensure something like that never happens again.

"We need to remember the staff involved with Ms Merten's care on the night she was in seclusion were quite properly held to account, but at the same time it's also important to recognise the vast majority of our staff do an excellent job under difficult circumstances and we mustn't demonise all staff working in mental health.

"It is, however, important in this review we establish confidence in our services from both clinicians and community.”

Dr Wright said the review team have so far discovered difficulties in mental health units are consistent across the districts, which includes the increasing need of patients to engage with staff who have a lived experience of mental illness.

"One of the main messages is the increasing need for staff to engage with consumers more effectively in our services. It's really clear that if we start employing people who have that lived experience, they add something really important to our services.”

Dr Wright added many people with a mental illness felt concepts such as compassion and humanity were lacking among mental health staff.

"A lot of people are saying, in our modern era, many of our services are quite transactional and there isn't a lot of engagement with, or knowledge of, the person.

"They are treated more like a set of symptoms and by putting back in that compassion and understanding, we're dealing with what we believe will improve the quality of the service and reduce the need for seclusion and restraint.”

Dr Wright said the key conclusion drawn from the eight community consultations undertaken so far is the need to re-establish trust of mental health services in NSW.

"What's clear to us, and something we already knew, is that seclusion and restraint are not treatments. They're not therapeutic, they're actually traumatising. You don't need a medical degree to understand why that might be.

"What we're hearing from consumers is just exactly how much that affects them, and that is distressing.

"It's important to put back trust into our services for the future, so people can access the services which are there to help them, not to cause them troubles. Hearing their stories is distressing and confronting, but for us on the team it's made us all the more determined to improve our services.”

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