Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | Video | Questions Of the Day | Search

 


Heather Roy's Diary: Mental Health

Heather Roy's Diary

Mental Health

On Monday a psychiatric patient ran amok in Henderson, West Auckland and killed a passer-by, Mr Kevin Newman. The attacker began by assaulting two men in a fishing equipment shop and then attacked Mr Newman in the street with a knife. He was then confronted by armed police officers and attempted to attack them, despite being shot. It has been reported that he had three bullet wounds but was grappling with a female police officer before being tackled by a parking warden, Mr Pes Fa'aui. This enabled police to apprehend the attacker who is now in hospital being treated for his own wounds.

The parking warden, Mr Fa'aui, had previously applied to join the police but was turned down because he couldn't swim. In light of these events the police should reconsider his application.

There was no obvious motive for the attack but it is generally assumed that the patient was psychotic at the time. This incident has raised, and not for the first time, the question of community treatment of psychiatric patients. Local Mayor, Bob Harvey, has said that the number of psychiatric patients walking the streets was "a big issue".

If Mayor Harvey means that there needs to be an increase in the number of long stay psychiatric beds then I agree with him. It does, however, need to be pointed out that for the last 20 years there has been a progressive closing down of nearly all psychiatric hospitals throughout the country. This has occurred under both Labour and National Governments and was done at a time when there was increasing use of marijuana and other recreational drugs.

Before people get on their high horse about psychiatric patients being "discharged into the community" it is worth remembering that, by and large, there is no alternative. Change needs to be made at a political level, as there is nothing mental health workers can do. They are not the ones making decisions on the structure of the mental health system although they often bear the blame for its failings. It is government that needs to make changes.

There now exists a large number of people with "double pathology" or "dual diagnosis" - patients who suffer from a mental illness and alcohol and/or drug addiction. Alcohol and drugs frequently make psychiatric symptoms worse and patients are often not compliant with treatment. The expectation of government is that the vast majority of these patients be treated in the community.

Sometimes patients need respite from the pressures that exist within our communities. Those addicted to drugs and alcohol for example find it very difficult to abstain while living in the community where both are easily accessible. The current system is fragmented. When people fall through the cracks it is often prisons that are left to pick up the slack. Prisons and living rough on the streets are no way to care for the mentally unwell. Society would be outraged if those were the options for people with physical conditions. Mental health has remained the 'poor cousin' in the health system for too long.

As Opposition health spokesman in the late 1990's, Annette King was very critical of the then Health Minister and said this of the mental health system:

"We see a 'cycle of tragedy - followed by investigations - then recommendations which appear to make no difference - then frustration - followed by rounds of people blaming each other - and finally another tragedy to kick-start it all off again".

She went on to say that "this was no way to run a health system"

Well, I agree. Unfortunately in her six years as Health Minister she did nothing to improve the situation for the mentally unwell. They are still being sent to prison and living rough on the streets. The system is still as fragmented as ever. Let's hope the new minister can do something for a system that is failing everyone - patients, their families, psychiatric staff caring for them and communities.

In the meantime Mr Newman's tragic death will no doubt result in an inquiry, plenty of hand wringing, recommendations that will change very little and we will sit and wait for the next tragedy to occur so that the process can start all over again. Until a government has the courage to tackle the real problems in mental health nothing will change.

ENDS

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

 

Sector Opposes Bill: Local Government Bill Timeframe Extended

The Minister of Local Government Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga has asked the Select Committee to extend the report back date for the Local Government Act 2002 Amendment Bill (No 2). More>>

ALSO:

Breed Laws Don’t Work: Vets On New National Dog Control Plan

It is pleasing therefore to see Louise Upston Associate Minister for Local Government calling for a comprehensive solution... However, relying on breed specific laws to manage dog aggression will not work. More>>

ALSO:

Not Waiting On Select Committee: Green Party Releases Medically-Assisted Dying Policy

“Adults with a terminal illness should have the right to choose a medically assisted death,” Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague said. “The Green Party does not support extending assisted dying to people who aren't terminally ill because we can’t be confident that this won't further marginalise the lives of people with disabilities." More>>

ALSO:

General Election Review: Changes To Electoral Act Introduced

More effective systems in polling places and earlier counting of advanced votes are on their way through proposed changes to our electoral laws, Justice Minister Amy Adams says. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On Our Posturing At The UN

In New York, Key basically took an old May 2 Washington Post article written by Barack Obama, recycled it back to the Americans, and still scored headlines here at home… We’ve had a double serving of this kind of comfort food. More>>

ALSO:

Treaty Settlements: Bills Delayed As NZ First Pulls Support

Ngāruahine, Te Atiawa and Taranaki are reeling today as they learnt that the third and final readings of each Iwi’s Historical Treaty Settlement Bills scheduled for this Friday, have been put in jeopardy by the actions of NZ First. More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Damage De-Regulation Is Doing To Fisheries And Education, Plus Kate Tempest

Our faith in the benign workings of the market – and of the light-handed regulation that goes with it – has had a body count. Back in 1992, the free market friendly Health Safety and Employment Act gutted the labour inspectorate and turned forestry, mining and other workplace sites into death traps, long before the Pike River disaster. More>>

Get More From Scoop

 

LATEST HEADLINES

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Parliament
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news