WA mental health groups say government support for community care is key to hospital crisis

By Nicolas Perpitch

Posted Friday 26 March 2021 at 8:08am, updated Friday 26 March 2021 at 4:12pm


Ms Harvey sits at a desk reading a brochure.
Taryn Harvey says a lack of support — including housing — leads to longer hospital stays.(ABC News: Evelyn Manfield)

Seven years ago, Leonie Auld was deeply depressed and suicidal.

Her sister took her to the emergency department at the Joondalup Health Campus, where she was admitted to the mental health ward.

“You feel very out of control of your life,” Ms Auld said. 

“You don’t have a sense of autonomy and control in your life and you can really only do the basics.

“For me just getting up,  making coffee and going back to bed was a regular occurrence. Not dressing. Wearing the same clothes every day. 

“Not being able to cope with work. It’s affecting your daily activities and being able to survive everyday life.”

After four weeks, she left hospital, but said she was not provided with any help or support to adapt and rebuild her life in the community.

“Once I was out of the safety of the hospital and those four walls, and real life comes at you, I didn’t have the mechanisms or coping skills to do that on my own,” she said.

She relapsed and was readmitted to the mental health ward.

But when she was discharged the second time, she had access to group counselling, supported ‘step down’ accommodation and intensive therapy. 

“So that enabled me to still continue my recovery but not be in that clinical setting, which was really important for me,” Ms Auld said.

She was one of the lucky ones to have access to limited services — and her successful reintegration into the community meant an extra mental health bed was freed up.

Mental health load worsening hospital crisis

The state government has attributed major blockages in Perth’s public hospitals in large part to increasing demand for mental health beds. 

WA’s peak mental health consumer body wants more government support for people to stay healthy in the community and not fall back on emergency departments.

“If we’re looking at how do you stop code yellows, you support people so they’re well and don’t have to go into hospital in crisis,” Consumers of Mental Health WA chief executive Shauna Gaebler said. 

She is calling for more support for people during the vulnerable transition out of hospital and for a “navigation service” to help people find and access mental health support to avoid hospital readmission. 

She also wants support for people to create a stable new life outside hospital. 

“The things that affect our lives, it’s around employment support, it’s around some access to financial support, accommodation support,” she said. “Those things that make our lives meaningful.”

Taryn Harvey, chief executive of the Mental Health Association WA, said better community support would free up mental health beds.

“We know that the government’s most recent data showed that 27 per cent, or 178 people, who were in a mental health hospital bed actually had no clinical reason to be there,” Ms Harvey said. 

“They were ready to be discharged, but because of a lack of housing and ongoing community support, they weren’t able to be discharged.”

New mental health teams to be funded

Mental Health Minister Stephen Dawson said the government was doing more to help people who did not require hospital treatment to become well in their communities, where they were close to support networks. 

That included establishing alternatives to emergency departments and crisis intervention services, such as ‘safe havens’ near Royal Perth Hospital and Kununurra emergency departments.

The government is also developing active recovery teams, which the Minister said would “bring together community support services and public hospital teams to ensure patients have the support they need to leave hospital and remain well in the community”.

The teams are due to be established by the middle of the year.

The government has already announced a $361 million package to expand youth community treatment services, assessment and treatment outreach teams and eating disorder services.

Health Minister Roger Cook said hospitals were also doing the best they could and more beds were being added to the system.

“It’s simply a stating of the obvious that occasionally hospitals will get a surge in presentations or something of that nature, and they just get the staff to redouble their efforts to move patients through,” he said.

“We’re seeing a growing number of presentations to our [emergency departments] and we’re seeing a particular cohort of patients who are highly complex and highly acute in terms of what symptoms they’re presenting with, and that’s really putting our ED’s under challenge.

“We’re bringing on 400 new beds. 300 are new inpatient beds and 100 of those are mental health beds, but we’re bringing on 117 beds on as a matter of urgency.”

To be continued…..

For help in Australia

Salvation Army Care Line     1300 36 36 22

Reach Out     http://au.reachout.com/tough-times

Headspace     Register and chat now at eheadspace, or call 1800 650 890  Headspace

Lifeline    13 11 14 https://www.lifeline.org.au/

Mensline Australia 1300 78 99 78 (24 hour phone counselling and referral)

Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36


Mates in Construction: 1300 642 111

QLife        1800 184 527    Phone & Chat  3.00 pm – 12.00 pm everyday

SANE Australia help helpline@sane.org

SANE Australia Helpline  Chat –  Talk to a mental health professional (weekdays, 10 am-10 pm Australian Eastern Standard Time) 1800 187 263

Kids Help Line 1800 55 1800 (24 hour phone counselling)

Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467 (Professional call back service referral line operates seven days a week)

Veterans Line 1800 011 046 (after hours professional telephone crisis counselling for veterans and their families

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