Motion - Mental Health Services

Wednesday October 14, 2020

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (12:46): I rise to support this motion and talk a little bit about our family's experience with mental health. We have a family member going through the mental health system in Mount Gambier, a regional part of our state, and that experience has been nothing short of horrific and debilitating, certainly for my parents, and something on which we need to keep shining a light and having a focus. So I view any cuts to this service as a very unfortunate move.

To talk through getting on to an NDIS system, it has taken my family member 15 months, with very little support, apart from family support. This is a person who has had a diagnosed disability since she was born. The inconsistencies when visiting specialists, or the lack of resident specialists in this area, lack of staffing at our mental health facility, lack of being able to access a mental health bed, have been very traumatic and a great disappointment to me looking at the system.

Drug cocktails are prescribed by one doctor and discredited by another doctor. The effect that has on the person is in terms certainly of weight gain, mental stability and a zombie-like state. You then have another doctor tell your parents that in fact you are on the wrong cocktail of drugs, or that this is counteracting another drug you are on, which is horrific when you look at it from a health system viewpoint.

It is something that would not be tolerated in any other field of health. Imagine a person with cancer getting one type of treatment and then another doctor coming in and totally overruling that doctor's recommendation and diagnosing something completely different, giving mixed opinions and advice. It seems to be Rafferty's rules at times as to the best way forward.

Couple that with parents who are ageing and trying to do the best they can to support their child through a very difficult time.

We have a long way to go. I firmly believe that we need to shine a brighter light on this, from both a professional point of view and, of course, a funding point of view. Then we couple with that the disadvantage of being in a regional setting and the attraction of suitably qualified professionals to that area within the health profession. It frightens me when off-the-record conversations are had with me as the local MP that people with mental health issues are being discharged from the emergency department before the 24-hour period comes up, because then it triggers an alert and they would rather see them discharged into the streets without an adequate bed being available at our local hospital.

The attraction and retention of suitable professions I think needs a bipartisan approach, and it is certainly one that would have my full support. You can throw as much funding at is as you like, but if you do not have suitably qualified staff you are not going to improve outcomes in regional centres. I do not want to see regional centres being a training ground or a dumping ground for some in the profession who may not have the standards that I believe we need in this area.

We have many skilled people in our region, and in the Limestone Coast we are very lucky to have groups like Lifeboat and the Junction before an acute stage is reached. That is an area where we need to be doing a lot more work. Why is it that we wait until somebody is at an acute stage before intervention or assistance is offered when, in actual fact, our focus needs to be right back on early intervention?

We have amazing, dedicated and passionate volunteers, people like Matthew Brookes from Lifeboat and Nel Jans from the Junction. I have been fighting for funding for these guys for a number of years and it always falls on deaf ears. They end up running the centres on a volunteer basis, yet if you look at the savings from a state government point of view, the savings from a community point of view and the detriment from a personal point of view, early intervention is critical and is something that we need to focus on.

Our region is very proactive in raising money for mental health. Maureen Klintberg, presiding member of the Mount Gambier and Districts Health Advisory Council, was a driving force behind the 2017 Bollywood Ball. This event raised $40,000 for the Mount Gambier hospital upgrade. Community fundraising is fantastic, but it should be used as a top-up and not as the only source or the major source of funding for projects and programs.

There is an event happening this month in Mount Gambier called The Full Monty: six local men are getting their kit off for charity. The member for Mount Gambier was not asked to participate for pretty obvious reasons. The proceeds will be divided amongst NGOs in our region, and these charities will include Lifeboat, the Junction, the Mount Gambier and District Suicide Prevention Network and the Mount Gambier and Districts Health Advisory Council.

It is wonderful that our community is so proactive in this space, but this grassroots fundraising also needs to be backed up by state government support. A key priority in the South Australian Mental Health Services Plan 2020-2025 speaks of:

Equity of access to services: ensuring people in South Australia have equitable access to services wherever they live, including people in rural and remote communities.

As we speak here today, the state budget is less than a month a way, and the Minister for Health and Wellbeing needs to ensure mental health is a key focus of health spending going forward. Each region of South Australia should be treated individually, as the Limestone Coast has differing needs, staffing levels, services and funding requirements to other regional parts of South Australia.

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health, and I believe a region-by-region approach is required. I am calling on the state government to ensure South Australia's regions are a focus of spending on mental health in the upcoming budget.