Recently, at a restaurant, an aspiring post graduate candidate expressed interest in studying mental health recovery in a third world setting. "Then why not study Queensland," I suggested dryly.
As a Brisbane mother and principal carer of a son with a psychiatric disability and complex needs, I have spent a decade observing a few changes in attitude towards this once taboo subject. It has also been a privilege to work with dedicated women and men to promote and generate a much needed community conversation.
The chief misconception I held was that a first class mental health system existed in Queensland. When my son began exhibiting alarming signs of prodromal schizophrenia, I thought that all I had to do was to mention it quietly; much as women do to request gynaecology services.
How wrong I was! Unfortunately, Queensland still lags well behind the other states in providing models of best practice in the management of housing and support for people living with schizophrenia and allied disorders. And it is women who bear the lion's share of the burden of care when a family is impacted by mental illness.
Robert Kennedy reminded us that as westerners, we are pretty good at costing, so good, in fact, that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Having lost my place in the workforce due to structural inequities and structural inadequacies, I am interested in generating awareness about the measures that are needed to achieve social reforms coupled with those shifts in understanding that are required for some much needed changes to occur. Ironically, despite a much-reduced income, I have moved to editing and mentoring work that I find highly rewarding and satisfying.
In 2004, the Schizophrenia Fellowship commissioned a study into the funding allocation of disability services in Queensland, according to disability affected life years.
It revealed an astoundingly skewed allocation, with families of people living with schizophrenia getting one third of one cent of the disability dollar. Of course this meant that most families missed out altogether. Today, families still struggle to find housing and support that is sustainable for family members with psychiatric disability.
One of the models of oversight that I have investigated in Brisbane provides a community centre where workers from Centrelink and the housing provider are available one morning a week. This ticks the box for bringing the services to residents, not the reverse.
However higher needs clients with tenancy needs, have not been successful in this model. For such clients, smaller groupings with more flexible support hours are needed.
Recent social experiments have demonstrated that seniors who have declined physically and mentally, undergo a dramatic rejuvenation when placed in stimulating surroundings. In mental health jargon, this is known as a therapeutic environment.
The changes that occur via the endocrine system, provide a persuasive argument in the case for congregate housing. In addition, the need for well-informed oversight is crucial for people who have impaired planning and decision-making capabilities.
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