THE peak body for WA mental health community services and Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt have warned a proposed new mental health hub could lead to a surge of anti-social behaviour in the city.
Earlier this week the McGowan government announced another 20-bed mental health unit at Fremantle Hospital, but the head of the WA Association for Mental Health said unless it’s matched by support for community services it won’t solve the state’s mental health “crisis” and see more people with unmanaged illnesses pushed onto Fremantle’s streets.
“To give it a big picture, we know our mental health system is out of whack,” Taryn Harvey told the Herald outside the Alma Street wing of the hospital.
“We cannot keep investing in acute clinical services without matching that with funding for community support.”
Ms Harvey, a former City of Vincent councillor, said about a quarter of patients in the state’s mental health facilities didn’t need to be there, but there had been so little investment in housing and preventative measure there was no other option.
“Five years ago the WA government developed a 10-year plan which outlined the optimal mix of acute clinical services and preventative community services, and it was a very robust plan that was connected to the national framework,” Ms Harvey said.
“It had bipartisan support, and strong support across the sector, and premier Mark McGowan says they are committed to it.”
But Ms Harvey said while it recommended that 5 per cent of the state’s mental health budget be set aside for preventative initiatives, that figure was currently about 1 per cent.
It also recommended 22 per cent be set aside for community support, but she says that’s hovering around 5 per cent.
She said by the time people needed acute services they were already in crisis, and without adequate community support to help them stay on track with their recovery, they simply “churned” through the health system.
Ms Harvey warned that the Covid-19 pandemic would exacerbate the problem, which seemed to have been lost on the McGowan government.
“There has been some work over east to predict the impact of Covid on people’s mental health, but I am not aware of our government doing anything to understand that.
“We can’t just keep telling people to call Lifeline.”
Ms Harvey said WAAMH had taken part in the government’s mental health Covid taskforce, but she said they “didn’t want to hear about systemic problems” but quick fixes which could be implemented.
She fears that if the hub pushes more people onto Fremantle’s streets with unmanaged mental health issues, it will reinforce the negative stigma they still face.
“We’re happy these days to talk about depression and anxiety, but the stigma in other areas is not being addressed.”
Ms Harvey wants to see better co-ordination of services in the mega Communities department, and said some were calling for the old area co-ordinator roles to be reinstated.
Ms Harvey and Dr Pettitt both stressed they welcomed the investment at the hospital, but simply wanted to ensure the mix was correct.
Dr Pettitt, said the council had repeatedly raised this issue with the government through a range of forums but hadn’t see much improvement; he didn’t even get advance warning about the hub, saying he read about it via an email. “We see ourselves as a very welcoming city, but there has to be proper wrap-around services,” Dr Pettitt said.
“People with severe mental health issues unmanaged in the streets of Freo has a big impact on community safety team and the police.”
By STEVE GRANT