A recently released mental heath report says early diagnosis and treatment of psychotic illness are important steps in reducing violent incidents involving people in the initial stages of the condition.
Shadow Mental Health Minister Michelle Lensink said a New South Wales study recently published in the Medical Journal of Australia into the link between homicide and psychotic illness revealed that deaths may have been prevented if governments provided adequate early intervention services.
The study, Homicide during psychotic illness in New South Wales between 1993 and 2002, concluded that,
‘People in their first episodes of mental illness should be considered to be at greater risk of committing serious violence than those in subsequent episodes.’
The study found that 61 per cent of the homicides reviewed as part of the project were committed by people suffering their first psychotic episode.
In addition, 45 per cent of the study’s subjects had been in contact with mental health services in the two weeks prior to the murder, ‘suggesting an avenue for early identification of risky symptoms’.
Ms Lensink said the report highlights the importance of rapid intervention by government services during the initial on-set period of mental illness.
“If there is justification needed for better mental health services and the ability to provide these to people when they first become ill, this NSW study provides it,” she said.
“The Opposition has highlighted this a number of times but it is something the Rann Government keeps failing to provide.
“I have been told by a number of families that ill relatives have been turned away from government mental health services due to the person not being sick enough despite suffering from severe delusions and the start of acute symptoms.
“I was advised of one situation where a woman who had been unable to get help from the government had to resort to threatening self harm in order to be treated.
“Quite simply early intervention does not exist and the Rann Government is placing people’s lives at risk.”
The 10-year study also found that of the 88 people charged with homicide offences 73 per cent reported drug use.
Ms Lensink said she had not been surprised with the finding, considering drugs such as cannabis and amphetamines are known to aggravate mental illness.
“Many of the victims of this study were family members or close associates of the charged offender,” Ms Lensink said.
“Neither this study nor the Opposition’s reference to it are intended to stigmatise the mentally ill. And no inference should be drawn that those living with mental illness are inherently violent or unsafe.
“However this study provides compelling evidence that governments – including the Rann Government – must provide better mental health services to ensure a safer environment for people with mental illness and their families.
“Our community needs a well-resourced public mental health service and better funding for the non-government organisations that do such a wonderful job picking up the shortfalls.
“It is the Rann Government’s responsibility to provide the community and those suffering mental health with a safe environment.”