Macklin / The rotten face of mental health care

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THERE is clearly something rotten in the state of Canberra’s mental health regime. This week’s reported death of a female patient at Canberra Hospital’s assessment unit last month is a tragic indicator of a much bigger problem.

Robert Macklin.
Robert Macklin.
The scandal of the autistic student confined in a “cage” might well have been a media exaggeration. Canberra’s teaching fraternity believe it would not have occurred without parental agreement; and the word “cage” might well be a journalistic beat-up. But all agree that more resources are desperately needed to deal with special needs children.

However, no one doubts the outrageous use of the Alexander Maconochie correction centre as a dumping ground for the mentally ill.

While estimates vary, more than a third of Canberra’s prison inmates have a diagnosable mental illness. This is no different from NSW where up to 7500 inmates are mentally ill with treatment facilities for only 300.

In 2008 Canberra was able to manage without any jail at all. Yet only seven years later it is overflowing and a second is mooted. But the need for separate mental illness facilities barely rates a mention.

PM Tony Abbott’s call this week for a “task force” to tackle the spread of crystal meth or “ice” was another aspect of the same problem. While it was derided (with some justice) as part of his campaign for political survival, many Canberra families – including your columnist’s – have had first-hand experience of its shocking effects.

The task force under former Victorian Police commissioner Ken Lay has the best of intentions, but it will do nothing to solve Canberra’s problem.

ACT police have only two options in dealing with addicts – a night in the Watch House or referral to Canberra Hospital – both equally ineffective.

NOW for the good news: great reports this week of “one of the best seasons in living memory” for Canberra’s vineyards. According to local vigneron Frank van de Loo the combination of a relatively cool summer and local grape varieties was “just fantastic”. Local wine association president John Leyshon was even more enthusiastic: “Most wineries produced more fruit than expected and it’s the best season I can remember”.

REGULAR readers will recall that three weeks ago a delegation of Canberra’s nascent film industry attended the Hong Kong Filmart to show their wares and make contact with the biggest and fastest-growing movie market in the world.

I’m thrilled to report that every one of the nine-member delegation secured contracts or memorandums of understanding that will eventually transform Canberra into a national hub for Australia’s film production within the region.

One big-budget, feature film – inspired by our only Chinese bushranger, Sam Pu – secured its Chinese financing and is slated for production next year; a local children’s TV producer secured major distribution links and another proposal, soon to be announced by the government, will provide the foundation for a series of low-budget genre productions.

FINALLY, a bitter-sweet farewell this week to actor-manager John Bell who made his swansong as Jacques in Bell Shakespeare’s “As You Like It”. The production itself had mixed reviews. But Bell’s performances will echo down the years “to the last syllable of recorded time”.


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