Mental health, mental illness and recovery: just concepts in the air for my son


In most people’s minds, the phrase mental illness conjures up images of people who cannot cope with life, who struggle with the most mundane tasks, who hear voices or who are down and out.  There are varying degrees of the stereotypes but they are representative of a range of thoughts in people’s minds.  Mental health, on the other hand, conjures up images of wellness, smiling people, people who are coping with everything that life throws at them, the pretty picture of life in the big city.  Fairly dichotomous, stereotyped images.  My son was ill but he hid it fairly well, he would smile and play with his little brother, he would make me coffee, sit outside with me, carry on a conversation, but deep down there was something wrong.  Something not quite right with his mood at times and his thought patterns.  He was seen by doctors regularly.  After all, they were the ones pumping him full of prescription pain killers and anti-anxiety medications.  Just before he died, he was in hospital.  He was in the esteemed Alfred Hospital of all places, for three days in the psychiatric ward where they prescribed him yet another medication and sent him home loaded up.  With more central nervous system depressants.

For those of you who don’t know, central nervous system depressants present a risk to a person’s breathing, particularly when they fall asleep or become unconscious, another fine line in working out what state the person is actually in.  My son was discharged without instructions for these medications and they knew that he was on a mixture of medications as well.  I am angry at them.  I believe that they were negligent in their duty of care.  He should not have been discharged.  He was too vulnerable.  But thinking like this, doing anything about it won’t bring him back, so I don’t dwell on it as it’s too painful but I will say my piece.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses experienced by young men and these illnesses can have a marked effect on people’s lives and also for those around them.  The more intense illnesses such as schizophrenia, are less common but have greater impact in terms of the chaos it causes in the lives of all involved individuals.   Here in Australia, there are certain times when you may be hospitalised without your consent. You may also be treated for the illness without your consent under certain circumstances, for example you may be given medication to make you well again, without your consent.  This is under circumstances where you are not able to make decisions for yourself because you are so unwell.  Perhaps you have been under an increasing amount of stress at work and your mind has simply become overwhelmed and maybe your mind has slipped back into hearing voices and maybe there have been outbursts of violence or you have done harm to yourself.  Sometimes people become so disoriented that they do not know what the time of day is or even what year we are in.  Under these circumstances, one would hope that we are living in a country where you are able to receive proper, humane treatment to make you well again.

I don’t know what the answer is, but there is a gap in the mental health care being provided.  How is it that someone as vulnerable as my son was discharged from hospital with so many medications and without proper written instructions.  Why wasn’t he informed of the risks to his health if he were to take all of the medications at once, because clearly, he wasn’t supposed to do that.  They were too strong.  Why wasn’t there a recovery plan in place for him?  Or was that too much work for them to do?! Is that how they discharge all of their patients?  The ones with schizophrenia, who need a plan of recovery and care for when they are discharged home.  Perhaps they too are not sure of how to take their medications.  It all seems a bit of a shambles if you ask me.

Every day on Twitter there are mental health organisations with professors etc, purporting to support recovery and support an integrated mental health care system, where there is no disparity in care and where stereotypes are trying to be broken down.  Lip service only.  I don’t see it happening in real life, with real patients.  But people like me are not heard.  And if I were to be heard, I would be censored.  They would say that I was too emotionally involved to be objective.

Give real results and then the public will trust the public mental health care system.  Until then, bear the responsibility of sub-par care and bear the responsibility of illness and death.

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