As we come to the end of another mental health week the inevitable question about this broad and complex problem is often: “Are we making any headway?”
More than five years since Patrick McGory highlighted just how serious and complex an issue we were facing as a nation, year after year passes and there seems to be a dishearteningly slow and incremental progress.
But one thing can be said of such awareness weeks, (even if the calendar is full of them) if only a few more souls are thinking about a health problem and consider possible solutions it is a sign of some success. Support services may still be struggling and desperate families all over Ballarat are still living under the desperation a mental health sufferer can inflict but their appears to be some advances.
The complex and destructive issue of self-harm is one that strains emergency call-outs with bleak monotony. These call outs turn into demands on police and ambulance crews as well as an increasingly difficult burden on emergency departments.
As an instance of these demands; with three police patrols on the road across Ballarat, all it takes is two acute psychiatric cases at a time ( and that can be common enough) and those same patrols will be taken off the road for a period dependent on its complexity and the ability of the base hospital to handle the case. The result could mean only one patrol unit left on the street. The police in no way begrudge this work, recognising that this is a legitimate and important call out for community safety but it does leave gaps in their resources.
The hope then is in the implementation of the so-called PACER units where in addition to the police response there is also help from a clinician working with police to assess the case. At this early stage they can assess if they are okay, should seek treatment soon or must be helped immediately and taken to the base hospital in which case the patrol can be brought back but not tying up the van unnecessarily. For those at the working end of this daily occurrence these extra resources couldn't come quickly enough and all pressure should be exerted to expedite this significant solution to the help needed.
Mental health hotlines are registering record numbers and ABS national statistics show suicides numbers in 2015 fell slightly. Is it possible that at the end of another Mental Health Week we are beginning to see the light at the end of this tunnel?