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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Anna Wilson

Anna* is the carer for her 27-year-old son Harold.* Anna said that they have always been close, and that Harold sends her phone messages saying ‘love you Mum’.

He was a beautiful little boy, who would often pick flowers for me on his way home from school. He had beautiful school reports, about how kind, gentle, polite and well-mannered he was.

Harold has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and alcohol dependency. Anna said that over the nine years she has tried to get treatment for Harold, his condition has worsened.

My son experienced his first psychotic episode in 2014 … Since Harold has been suffering from mental illness, it has been nine long torturous years struggling to get help. I have been forced to watch my beautiful boy’s life deteriorate in front of my eyes.

Anna reflected that being a carer trying to get help from the public mental health system in crisis situations has been a battle.

I have felt so disempowered and exhausted from constantly battling to get my son the support and care he needs.

I have been pushed aside because staff are busy. Mental health workers have said to me ‘I can’t talk now’ or ‘I’ll let you go now’. I’ve felt like saying ‘I don’t want to be let go’.

Anna said she has tried to call emergency and crisis services about Harold, but that help is only provided in the most severe situations.

There have been thousands of phone calls, between 20 to 50 calls on some days, yet I have been unable to get my son the help he needs. Sometimes, the situation has to be really drastic before you are taken seriously, and help is provided. I’ve had to talk to the Mental Health Complaints Commissioner, the Office of the Chief Psychiatrist and, at times, I have had to threaten legal action because otherwise you just don’t get listened to. It shouldn’t have to be like this.

However, Anna spoke positively of how police have responded to Harold, particularly on one occasion where they attended after a neighbour reported a disturbance.

Although the policeman was assertive, he was also compassionate, empathetic and listened to Harold. Harold really opened up his heart to him. He showed the policeman all the scars on his arms and the cuts he’d made a couple of days earlier, talked about … how his cat was missing. One of the policeman said to Harold ‘I know, I’ve lost a cat too, it’s really hard’ …

The police and some public service officers have been fantastic … and in my experience far more supportive and responsive than the [crisis assessment and treatment] team.

Anna would like to see improved crisis services so that police are not the main contact for people who need specialised treatment. She would also like to see more hospital beds available and better support for people being discharged from a service. Anna also wants the waiting lists reduced for services that provide long-term rehabilitation.

I want my son to learn to be independent and to be able to live in his own home. I’m scared that after I pass away, he will end up on the street. It breaks my heart …

Anna described how caring affects her own health and wellbeing and leaves her feeling drained. She would like carers to receive more support and opportunities to have a break.

She also said that the mental health system needs more compassion.

the system, the services and the workforce need to be more compassionate and understanding of the immense pain and stress that families and people like my son are experiencing. Workers need patience and understanding to properly engage with people with mental illness.

Source: Witness Statement of ‘Anna Wilson’ (pseudonym), 2 July 2020.

Note: *Names have been changed in accordance with an order made by the Commission.