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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Carol

Carol* lives in regional Victoria with her 32‑year‑old son, Chris*, who moved home with her eight years ago.

He completed university and began working, when he suddenly became mentally unwell. He didn’t know what was going on, we just knew that there was something very wrong.

Carol said Chris wanted help, but they struggled to find professionals to provide diagnosis, support and treatment.

He goes to see someone—he’s seen many people—and then it’d get too hard for them and they’d just discard him, saying ‘I can’t help you’ and things like that.

Living in regional Victoria, there were limited service options and often long wait times.

Carol said it was a frustrating experience trying to navigate Chris’s voluntary admission to the inpatient ward at the local hospital. Despite having it pre‑arranged, Carol said none of the paperwork had been passed on.

Carol said Chris stayed at the hospital, despite feeling distressed by the initial interactions and disorganisation. For reasons unknown to Carol, Chris was then put on an order.

He went there with his own free will to try and get some help and then he had an order put on him. I said, ‘but why have you done that?’ Anyway, I never really got a proper answer.

After two weeks, the facility called Carol to pick Chris up.

The psychiatrist said, ‘Well, we’ve organised for him to go to another place’. And I said, ‘where is that? It would be nice if we could sit down and talk about this’.

Chris was moved to a Prevention and Recovery Care (PARC) unit for 28 days. After this, he moved back in with Carol, with plans for local community‑based supports. However, the service he was referred to was not responsive.

I said, ‘my son hasn’t heard anything’ and the response was, ‘well, he’s very low on our list of priorities’.

Supported by Carol and his GP, Chris travelled to Melbourne to access a private inpatient unit for diagnosis and treatment. He also used Skype to connect with his clinicians—this was a good way for Chris to access services outside of the local area without the need for travel.

My son really liked having the Skype sessions, but unfortunately the psychiatrist retired, and the link with the private inpatient unit ceased because of that, so the contact with the Melbourne specialist came to an end.

Chris was left without a psychiatrist or referral to another clinician. This left Carol and Chris to try to find another psychiatrist on their own, which was compounded by long wait lists, a lack of services in rural and regional areas, and high staff turnovers.

Chris now has an NDIS Plan and Support Coordinator who assists Chris to navigate his support options and arrange the supports he needs.

Carol would like to see a system where carers are recognised and listened to, alongside better provision in rural and regional areas.

We need a mental health system where specialist services are available in rural and regional Victoria. Accessing and navigating the current system is a nightmare.

Source: RCVMHS, Interview with ‘Carol’ (pseudonym), October 2020.

Note: *Names have been changed to protect privacy.