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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Personal story:

Margaret: frontline worker

Margaret* is a GP working in Victoria. She says very little is working well when it comes to mental health in her rural community.

I’ve been a GP for over 35 years and things are worse than ever. I see suicidal patients almost on a daily basis […] If I refer patients to a public mental health service and they are dismissed because they are not in crisis, this does more harm […] I see patients at risk daily or weekly until I feel they are less in danger of dying.

She described a health service in New South Wales where any person attending an emergency department with suicidal thoughts must be assessed by a psychiatrist using teleconference before they are allowed to leave.

This should be the bare minimum for prevention of suicide.

Margaret described knowing many patients with strong suicidal thoughts who were taken to an emergency department, sent home and told someone will follow up with them the next day and the follow-up calls never happened.

It is unacceptable. The issues behind poor mental health lie in society generally and are complex. We desperately need more psychiatrists in rural areas.

Drawing on her experiences as a GP, Margaret said services do not link well with family doctors, who end up providing the majority of mental health services in a rural area.

I don’t know what it is like in the cities, but very poor access to highly trained psychiatric professionals is really impacting the poor mental health in our communities.

She described the way physical and mental health conditions are treated differently within the system, stating that if someone was to present at emergency with chest pain they would be triaged, quickly seen by a doctor then a cardiologist and potentially flown to Melbourne for an urgent angiogram.

People with severe mental illness are at most risk of dying […] Almost every life-threatening illness I can think of gets treated as rapidly as they need and by the relevant specialist in that field. This doesn’t happen in mental health with utterly tragic results. The situation is desperate.

Source: Interim Report, November 2019

Note: *Name has been changed to protect privacy.