All content contained within should be restricted to those over-age. Occasionally, suicide and self-harm are mentioned and readers should take care to ensure they are in a safe place - emotionally and physically - before reading. Comments are welcome.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Two points - Better Access (1) and why self-injury isn't a suicide attempt (2)

I just looked up the phone number for my local public mental health service.  The number is disconnected.

Finally found the right number.  Woman on the other end seemed really nice.  Apparently there is a team of five (not sure of the profession make-up of team), no GP referral needed, and when I asked about waiting times, I was informed that there wasn't too much of a wait, that they would get back to me pretty quickly.

It all sounds so good, and maybe I'd be lucky and they would actually put me on the books.  Last time I tried, I got kicked out *shrug* - I wasn't "special" enough I guess.  Maybe I'd be really lucky and find someone else who is an amazing trauma specialist.  Time before last, there was a mixed bag between the very good and the fucking horrible.  Maybe I'd be really lucky and get an appointment straight away.

So - why not call back?  I mean, aside from the fact that people who have dealt with the system very recently, indicate that it is just as fucked up as it always was...

Because even assuming it's rosy as pictured by said receptionist (?) - I just can't fucking do it.  Fifteen years of knowing I've had a mental illness.  Twelve years of it being misdiagnosed.  Three years of progress.  I can't do that three years again - and that is assuming the experience is a good one (and there's certainly no guarantee's of that).  I am fucking stuffed.  I am tired beyond belief and I just want to sleep forever.  I can't entertain the thought of - well anything much really - other than the bare minimum of what is needed to get through the day.  And quite frankly, if it wasn't for my husband, the kids would have stayed home today.  And yesterday.  And possibly all of last week.

Thank goodness internet grocery shopping has finally hit our little town.  Even if it is frightfully expensive.

There is no way in hell I can entertain the thought of going through those three years again with someone new, just to get to the same point that I'm at now.  And what if they get transferred or choose to leave (which in the public system, is not out of the realms of possibility)?  Then I have to go through it all again.

Fuck off.

"We'll send you here, we'll send you there..." - and all the while, we'll act like we're doing you a favour.

I had to hang up the phone before, because the very thought of starting over with someone else was making me nauseous.  I would quite frankly, rather be dead.

All day, I have been trying to fight off this sense of impending doom.  The doom being my creating my own end.  Not that it would be all gloom of course - me being me, I have quite the plans... however that's not really the point...  Over the course of the day, it has been gaining momentum, despite my efforts to tell it in no uncertain terms, to fuck off - until I reached the point where it was manifesting in a rather dramatic physical way - not quite full-on panic attack, but the "death by a thousand cuts" style of panic attack.  The type that builds slowly - too slowly to even really notice at first - and lasts and lasts and lasts.  This one has indeed been brewing for a few days.

The effects a short while ago?  Couldn't breathe properly.  Tightness of chest.  Muscles tensed up.  Thoughts alternating between "I want to die now" and "Fuck off you do, just wait it out".  Thoughts which start off slow and get faster and faster until nothing else fits any more.  You get to the point where you KNOW something has to give and you're scared it's going to be your life - and at the same time, you're pleased that at least it'll be over.  Unlike the fast panic attacks, you know you can't wait the slow ones out - they have way more stamina than you do.  So it ends up coming down to two choices - neither of which are pretty.

On this particular day, I have chosen to self-injure.  Don't stress - it's not "bad" - just enough to do what I needed.  Ever felt morphine wash over your body, or had a gallstone attack subside on its own - and gone from massive pain, to no pain in a few seconds - and felt that relief?  That is what self-injury feels like when you're having one of these types of panic attacks.  And you can feel free to judge me for that the day they make Epi-pens legal for people with a mental illness.  Until then, some days, this is all we can do to keep from killing ourselves.

Of course, I'm not advocating self-injury as a coping mechanism.  Indeed, I am a big fan of the Happy Box - details of which are listed below.  However, some days...  Anyway - the whole idea of blogging for me, aside from ripping it up people who need a good bitch slap, is to write about what it's like to live with a mental illness.  This is what it is like for me.

I'm the first to say that if you want to emulate me, then you're next in line for a good bitch slap.

Update: Thanks to one lovely lady who e-mailed me earlier, a couple of good people on Twitter with laughs galore, the people waiting for me to nudge them (and thanks for understanding why I can't), and my husband and kids, who have to put up with me in the flesh.

The other ugly brain bitch isn't winning today.  Fuck that shit.  If only because I am one stubborn bitch who has much living to do yet.

The "Happy Box" is an idea founded by a group of people who self-injure, many years ago.  I still have my first happy box, given to me by one the members of this group.

For people who self-injure, feel suicidal, or have a mental illness, the Happy Box is a box of things to keep one occupied until such time as they feel "safe" again, or can get some help.  A Happy Box is personal to the person who it is for - what works for one person may not work for another.

If you are thinking of making a Happy Box, either for yourself or someone else, the following are some ideas of what to put in it - to get you started.

*  Phone numbers of people to call in an emergency, or to talk to
*  Favourite music
*  Favourite book - it could be a novel, or a book of inspirational quotes or a colouring-in book
*  Photo's of happy times, or of loved ones
*  Art supplies - either standard art supplies for art, or some people who self-injure find it therapeutic to scribble red on something
*  Worry dolls
*  Crystals (if that's your thing)
*  Small icons or figurines that are meaningful
*  Journal and pens
*  Things that smell nice - incense or perfume etc
*  DVD of a favourite funny movie
*  Rubber bands - some people who self-injure find that snapping a rubber band against their wrist can help relieve the pressure to self-injure
*  Play-doh, Lego or other manipulative toys to keep hands and minds occupied
*  Letters from loved ones (good ones)
*  A voucher to the movies, or a favourite restaurant or ice-cream place
*  Chocolate or lollies
*  Candles
*  Bath salts

Friday, November 4, 2011

So how SHOULD we talk about suicide?

On Twitter earlier today a rural psychologist wrote ... "My occupational hazard as a rural psych under Gillard gov cuts to #BetterAccess is a grotesque lottery of when & who- not if- suicides occur"

A couple of people on Twitter say this statement is irresponsible and sensationalist.

I say "right on sister!!!"

Damn straight it's sensational.  And so it should be.  We should be screaming this from every rooftop.  It should be plastered all over the news.  The people of this country should be uniting together and rallying around those who are suicidal.  We should be talking about it.  How it feels.  How it affects our lives.  How it affects our families and friends.  2200 deaths each year in this country from something that is essentially preventable?  65000 people who try each year to end their life?  And now the government has just drastically cut the support that these people get?

It's "irresponsible" to get this information out?  It's "irresponsible" to educate the public as to what the real cost of the Better Access cuts are?  It's "irresponsible" to tell the truth?  Really?  That is the sort of world you want to live in?

Do you really think that people are going to hurt themselves after reading something like that?  You really think that is triggering?  Let me tell you about triggers...

Triggers can happen any time, any place.  You remember the Harry Potter book and movie where he had to write lines on parchment and they ended up being engraved on his arm?  I was a part of a self-injury self-help, online forum back then, and boy, didn't it go off.  There are advertisements that are triggery.  There are books that are triggery.  And the first thing you learn when you find yourself being "triggered" is to go to a safe place until you're "safe" again.  Why?  Because the whole fucking world has the potential to be a trigger!

It would be great if we could put a disclaimer on the world, but we can't.  And I get why that scares some people.  I get why some people want to keep it all hushed up.  However, here is your reality check - Hushing it up hurts.  It does not help.

It does not help, because when you only talk about "good stories" of healing and shit, family and friends start to wonder why the hell YOU are not "healing and shit".  They see programs on television and read stories about people who had depression for a year or so and "got over it", they fail to realise that your PTSD isn't the same as their depression, and they get to thinking that the problem isn't the mental illness - the problem is YOU.  Because if SHE can "get over it" then surely YOU could if you really wanted to.  And they give up on you, and they go away.

The irony is that the organisations that are trying to eliminate the idea that you can "just get over it", are the same organisations that are perpetuating that belief by not being honest about what mental illness is like.

I have been a member of a few forums over the last decade, and in one particularly large one (so, good sample size) with people from all demographics, the thing that amazed me the most, was the general attitude that people had about mental illness.  They were generally stigma-free when it came to mental illness.  The problem was in how many of them thought that a) medication helped in ALL cases (SO not true); b) that help is available to every person who seeks it (SO not true); and c) that you CAN recover no matter what illness you have, or the severity of it (SO not true).

The flow on effect this has?  There are a few.  The first is that when someone first speaks of having depression (or any other mental illness), they are immediately advised to start medication because it will work.  Six months later, some of these people are back because it hasn't worked and they feel like failures.  They feel like it is their fault it hasn't worked.  They feel like they've done something wrong, or that they are in some way defective.  If they had been warned from the start that it may not work, then when it doesn't, they would be prepared.

The second effect is when people talk about how difficult is was to get help, they are told to try harder - help IS there, so they must not be trying too hard to find it.  The reality is that help is quite often either not there (particularly in rural areas, but also in low funded urban areas), or even if it is, it is not appropriate for the person's situation.

The third effect is that when some people do not see improvement within a certain time frame, again, they feel that it is their fault.  

Telling these people the truth isn't necessarily going to cause them to commit suicide or self-harm.  NOT telling them the truth, however, can lead to suicides, suicide attempts and self-harm, if it leads to them feeling like failures for not "getting better" the way they've been led to believe they should.

Maybe if there were more people telling the truth - that mental illness IS dirty, it IS dark and it IS fucking depressing - maybe these expectations wouldn't be put on us all to "just get over it".  People might start to understand what it's like to live with a mental illness, the term "worried well" would have been treated with the contempt it deserves, and we would be starting to actually find a real way to help the 65000 suicidal Australians.

These cuts are going to lead to suicides where suicides may not have happened if Better Access had been left alone.  That is the cold hard truth of it, people need to know, more than they need to be shielded from it, and if you think we don't need to be ramming that truth up the arse of every single Australian out there, then basically, you need to pull your head out of whatever sand dune it happens to be residing in.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Calling a spade a fuckwit

Credit: No idea - it did the FaceBook rounds...

Given good quality and regular psychological care is now only within the realms of the rich, I have decided to try screaming obscenities.

Brace yourself.

I have been e-mailing politicians in order to enlighten them of my concerns to the cutting of the Better Access Initiative.  Over the last couple of days, I have received mostly automatic replies, with a few "I've told my assistant to tell you I'll look into it"'s, and a couple of "you do not live in my electorate therefore bite me"'s.  Fair enough - they are (god I hope) busy running the country and thus this was to be expected.
One reply however, pissed me off in a rather spectacular way, and not simply because it was a cut-and-paste disguised as an actual reply (I can Google people).  What pissed me off was the content of the information itself, as well as the fact that it is being used in a formal capacity as the justification to screw the average person with a mental illness over.

I have included the e-mail, and addressed it, below:

Dear Ms Wemyss,

Senator Cameron has asked that I acknowledge your email of 25 October 2011 and thank you for raising your concerns regarding the Better Access initiative.

While I'm sure Senator Cameron did not actually ask that Jessica reply to Linda's e-mail, but rather said something along the lines of "get onto those fucking e-mails too will ya - my inbox is getting full" - it is a nice personal touch.

The 2011-12 Budget provided a record investment of $2.2 billion over five years in new and expanded mental health services.  Included in this investment were some changes to the Better Access initiative.

The government says "changes" - I say we got our fucking arses handed to us.

The Australian Government is concerned that while Better Access is a good program for those it is reaching, it is still not servicing hard to reach groups like young people, men, people living in rural and remote regions, Indigenous Australians and people living in areas of high socio‑economic disadvantage.  In fact the evaluation showed that people on lower incomes received both significantly less services and funding under Better Access than those on higher incomes.

I'm on a low income (DSP).  I live in a rural area.  And to whoever thought to come up with this particular argument for taking away the one support I have - go fuck yourself.

If the system is working, but not reaching the "right" people (and I don't accept the premise that this is the case), then change the system to make it better - don't throw it away.

From 1 November 2011, the cap on Medicare rebates for eligible people with a diagnosed mental disorder will be changed from 12 sessions per year to ten.  Following the initial course of treatment (a maximum of six sessions) consumers will be able to access more sessions of up to ten.  Consumers are also eligible for ten group sessions per calendar year in addition to their individual sessions. 

Bullshit.  It is being cut from 18 to 10 sessions.  My two year old is pretty good with his numbers, if the government would like some tutoring.

In making these changes the Government has listened to mental health experts and examined the available evidence, including the independent evaluation of Better Access.  After more than four years of operation, the Government has a clear sense of how the program is being used by providers and consumers.

Actually - in making these changes, the Government has listened only to those it has deemed "worthy".  Many mental health experts have challenged the cuts.

Providers and consumers, in general, are pissed off at the cuts.  I suggest to the government that given providers and consumers are the ones providing and consuming, we have a pretty good fucking sense of "how the program is being used".   At this point, I really wouldn't assume that the Government has a "clear sense" of where to find it's dick, except that we're all being royally screwed.

The findings of the Better Access evaluation showed that almost three-quarters of people who access services used between one and six sessions a year.  The majority (87 per cent) of current Better Access users received between one and ten sessions and will therefore be unaffected by this change.

Yes.  Fuck the 13%.  The 13% are I'm guessing, more likely to have complex needs and more likely to be suicidal.  A fair whack of cancer patients don't go on to have chemotherapy - should we stop funding that too?  And if the government thinks we're talking about talk-therapy vs. death, then I'd invite the government to go and meet the families and friends of the approx. 65000 Australians who try to kill themselves each year, and tell them that their loved ones aren't worthy of treatment.  I don't suggest the government tell it to people trying to kill themselves.  I think the government has given them enough to deal with for now.

People currently receiving services under Better Access will be able to access up to 12 individual and/or up to 12 group sessions prior to 30 October 2011.  In exceptional circumstances, and where there is a clinical need, they can access an additional six individual services prior to 30 October 2011.

From 1 November 2011, the new arrangements will apply. Individuals who have already accessed ten or more individual and ten or more group services by 1 November 2011 will not be eligible for additional services until 1 January 2012.

So they are left with nothing.  Over Christmas of all fucking times of the year.  Bravo.

The Department of Health and Ageing is working on implementation arrangements and further information will be made available to consumers and providers in the near future.

What near future is that?  I received this e-mail on the 27th October for fuck's sake - the cuts kick in this Tuesday.  I'm guessing Jessica didn't proofread before she sent this e-mail.  There has hardly been a mass advertising campaign - certainly NOTHING to the general public.  Not surprising obviously.

The Better Access initiative was introduced to address low treatment rates for high prevalence mental disorders such as depression and anxiety – particularly presentations of mild to moderate severity where short term evidence based support is most likely to be useful.

Short term evidence based support is MORE than 10 sessions.

While some people with more complex or intensive care needs may benefit from psychological interventions under Better Access, the initiative was not designed to provide intensive, ongoing therapy for people with severe, ongoing illness. 

And yet, it is working for that anyway.  In any other area of medicine, this would be seen by all as a GOOD thing.

It is important that people get the right care for their needs.  People who currently receive more than ten allied mental health services under Better Access are likely to be patients with more complex needs and would be better suited for referral to more appropriate mental health services. GPs can continue to refer those people with more severe ongoing mental disorders to Medicare subsidised consultant psychiatrist services, where 50 sessions can be provided per year, or state/territory specialised mental health services. 

Many people ARE getting the right care for their needs.  Or they were at least.

If people wanted to see a psychiatrist - if they thought that would work for them - they would be doing it already.  And probably are.  Thus, the government is forcing people to see a specialist they do not want, or do not need - or just forcing them to go without altogether if they figure it's not worth their time to see someone they do not want or do not need.  People with "complex needs" are still capable of deciding for themselves what works for them.  For the very very few who are not, I'm sure their GP isn't sitting there going "well, I could refer to a psychiatrist because I think that would be more appropriate, but fuck it, I'll refer to a psychologist instead, just for shits and giggles".

The Government is also investing through this year’s Budget, $549.8 million to provide coordinated and flexible funding for people with severe mental illness and complex multi‑agency needs.  This will provide eligible individuals with a single point of contact, a care facilitator, and will assist about 24,000 people and their families.

Again with the telling people what they need.  That aside - where is this funding?  Where are these services?  Who is this single point of contact that I might call this Tuesday?  Might it not have been a good idea to set this shit up BEFORE taking away current services?

To help make psychiatrist services available in more areas, from 1 July 2011 the Government is providing new Medicare rebates for video psychiatrist consultations for patients living in regional, remote and outer metropolitan areas.  GPs, specialists and other health professionals will be provided with financial incentives to help deliver these online services and funding will also be provided to support training and supervision for health professionals.

ROFL.  Has the government ever tried to access the internet rurally?  It's provided by satellite and coverage depends on the weather, the satellites, and I imagine some higher power's general mood at any given time.  I can just imagine the conversations now... "Hello Dr. Quack, I'm feeling suicid... beep beep beep".  Not to mention added complications such as ensuring privacy ("Yes you can talk to your doctor about how I'm beating the crap out of you, but I'll be standing behind the desk here where he can't see me" - it's every abusers wet dream), whether or not the person is computer literate (or literate in general), or even whether someone has access to a bloody computer at home (because doing therapy in a public library is really what we all wish for *rolleyes*).

Hey, it's a great idea to offer it as an option.  But to take from a program that works in order to do so?  Is the government fucking kidding me?

Also - taking money from psychologists and giving it to psychiatrists is like taking money from therapy and giving it to medication.  Oh wait... that is exactly what it is doing.  If only all mental illnesses could be cured with a few pills...

Credit: Picture - Steve Sneider (2011); Text - Ania Krysztofiak

Every cent generated from the changes to Better Access is being redirected to double the number of services targeted at vulnerable and hard to reach groups through the Access to Allied Psychological Services (ATAPS) program, as well as investing in additional services for early intervention youth services and improving the coordination and accessibility of services for individuals with severe mental illness.

ATAPS in my area gives you a maximum of 8 sessions per year.  No choice of practitioner - not even a guarantee of seeing the same practitioner for each visit. I have done "see whoever is on shift at the time" and it nearly fucking killed me.

If a private psychologist gets a little mouthy, you can tell them to fuck off and find another one before it gets too bad - if a psychologist at ATAPS gets a little mouthy - you've got nothing.  And if the government thinks for a moment that there are "complaint systems" in place - then I'd like to shove their arse into a public psych ward, and a week later tell me how well those work in real life.

I don't think ATAPS is working as well as the government thinks it is and/or they simply don't give a fuck.

The Government does not take the decision to make changes to Medicare services lightly, but given the tight fiscal environment it has a responsibility to ensure that its investments are appropriately targeted to ensure maximum value.

Maximum value?  My psychologist is not a fucking commodity.  Last night, she was the person who took me from "I've just lined up all the medication I have and was about to down it with a bottle of Jack Daniels except my husband came home earlier than expected" to "Fuck it, let's die another day".  Next week, my only option is hospital.  Let me tell the government about hospital.

A few years ago, the police picked me up at a park and took me to hospital.  I was suicidal.  There were no beds, so despite the fact that I just been made homeless earlier that evening, they let me go at 2am in the morning.  The next day, my best friend, who had travelled three hours to come and get me, called the hospital to tell them I was still suicidal and should he bring me in?  He was told "Call back when she's done something".  When I've done something.  I have to actually cut my wrists or swallow a bunch of pills before they'll even consider a pre-admission meeting.  Now granted, experience has revealed that I'm bad at most things, and I can add trying to kill myself to that list, given I've tried and failed twice (three times if you count the first one, which was pretty doomed from the start).  Next time, I'm not going to fail.  Mainly because some emergency department doctors have given me such great advice on how to succeed next time.  Seriously.  "Next time go up, not across" was said to me as my wrists were being stitched.  I took note for future reference.

THAT is my other option.  And if the government thinks that is acceptable for me - let alone a child, teenager or young adult - then they are cunt of the fucking millennium.  McGorry and Hickie, stand aside...

The Government is also investing in a range of expanded mental health services, including:

·     doubling funding to the ATAPS program delivered through Divisions of General Practice and Medicare Locals into the future;
·         30 more youth friendly headspace services;
·         16 new Early Psychosis Prevention Intervention Centres; and
·         a doubling in the number of Family Mental Health Services.

Wank, fucking wank.

More information about these and a range of other initiatives can be found at www.health.gov.au/mentalhealth

I trust that this information is of assistance.

Well, it did give me something to do today...

Yours sincerely

Jessica Xxx (because the poor woman is just doing her job)
On Behalf of
Senator Doug Cameron
Senator for New South Wales

And not one of these arguments addresses the fact that I've been seeing my psychologist for three years, AND I FUCKING WELL LIKE HER.  After fifteen years or thereabouts, of seeing every quack under the sun, I found someone who knows what she is talking about, and is prepared to do more than just listen to me bitch about my previous fortnight.  I trust her.  And sometimes I may blush and do some deep breathing first, but I can tell her anything.  I don't want or need a "team".  I don't want or need a psychiatrist.  I sure as shit don't want to do therapy online any more than I want to do pap smears online.  ATAPS is simply Better Access without choice or continuity of care, so I don't want or need that either.

I would have had a hell of a lot more respect for the government if they had just stood up and said, "OK, we're in bed with McGorry and Hickie and have decided to fund their pet projects and have decided the rest of you can go and get fucked in order to fund it".  It would have been clean.  It would have been honest.  Instead, on top of having therapy cut, we're continually trying to determine whether the government is truly deluded, or just plain evil.

At this point, I think I'll assume both, and henceforth refer to them as a collective bunch of fuckwits.

Further Blogs to read:

Pretty sure none of them swear ;-)

If I haven't listed your blog on Better Access, and you think that negligent of me, feel free to e-mail me at lindamadhatter@gmail.com and I'll add it for you.

If this article, or my general being, has distressed you, please feel free to call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Guest Blog

Someone has asked me to post this for them - they wish to remain anonymous.

As of November 1st, those of us with a "severe and persistent mental illness" (I'm using official political lingo here) who rely on Better Access to keep our heads above water will be forced to take a minimum of 2 month therapy break. We're calling ourselves the 13%ers. That's because we're the 13% of people using Better Access who use more than 10 Medicare funded sessions per year. Apparently, being in this minority percentage means that we're not important enough to consider when readjusting mental health spending. We're only about 87,000 people, so they're just going to chop our services for an extended Christmas break. This would be nice if I could take holiday leave from my illness, but unfortunately the "boss" doesn't approve. So instead, for Christmas it's just going to be me and my illness, with no safety net, no tapering down period, nothing. Just a November 1st cutoff with no appropriate options for support until the following year.

The last time I was exited from a supportive mental health program without a safety net in place, I attempted suicide.

Obviously, I failed miserably (but I did learn a few things about how I might do it right next time). I ended up in hospital for a few weeks and got drugged out of my brain until I started hallucinating. I then had to go through god awful withdrawals, and many of those months after my discharge are still a drugged out blur. They drugged me this much because they seemed to think I wasn't taking the severity of my illness seriously enough. This was because I didn't want drugs, I wanted therapy. I might add, I was the one that checked myself into hospital in the first place (my suicide attempt failed so miserably that I didn't even need medical attention, but after seeing the distress it caused my friends I did figure I probably needed to get some help so once I was lucid again I made a few calls). Had I not told them about the severity of my situation, they wouldn't have known. It was a great lesson in realising it's best not to ask for help unless it's from someone I trust. And boy do I no longer trust the mental health system, particularly psychiatrists.

I trust my psychologist though.

My psychologist is incredibly skilled at preventing me from getting to that point where I'm willing to swallow all the pills I've collected over the years from psychiatrists who are more than happy to dole them out to me to fix my "chemical imbalance" (even though none of them can actually agree on which kind of chemical imbalance I have, or which kind of pills I should be swallowing, or whether they should just zap my brain instead). For me, early intervention has come to mean getting to my psychologist before the shit hits the fan. But too bad if things start to slide after November 1st. My psychologist may start to regret having put his mobile number on his business card (although my anxiety about making phone calls will probably keep him safe from that).

It makes me think of the year I had chronic tonsilitis. Imagine if at an arbitrary date the pharmacist had announced, "Sorry, but you've had your maximum allowance of antibiotics for the year. Come back in two months and let's just hope that infection hasn't spread" Imagine the outrage! Denied access to the most basic and essential care, which could potentially lead to death (yes, that happened from infections before penicillin was discovered, and can happen to someone who is chronically suicidal if their support network is taken away). And as far as I'm concerned, that is all seeing my psychologist is: the most basic and essential care I can receive for my chronic mental illness to stop it from turning into anything worse. And trust me, a chronic mental illness is a lot more painful than chronic tonsilitis.

So, I wonder, what's going to happen to us 13%ers over our extended Christmas break? Will our "infections" spread? Here's hoping not, because if the others are anything like me, they won't want to be banging on any hospital and/or psychiatrists' doors. And not because we lack "insight" into our condition, but because we have a great deal of insight into the sheer incompetence rampant in the profession. It makes me wonder though, is this what the Government wants? To get us out of the system so we stop costing them money, while they can parade around declaring what a wonderful job they have done on mental health reform? The joke's on them though, because I can guarantee I'll still be collecting my disability payment, and with only 10 sessions with a psychologist a year from now on, it's quite likely I'll be collecting this payment for many more years than would've been necessary were the new changes not put into place. Better Access is the best program I know of to facilitate recovery, and therefore reducing sessions is effectively reducing recovery rates. I think it's about time the Government stopped skimping on essential services and started realising us 13%ers are not the people to be taking services away from. Talk about targeting the weakest of the bunch! Here's hoping we can show them we're not the weak target they were hoping for.

But at this point, all I can say is good luck in the following months my fellow 13%ers. I've got a feeling we're going to need it!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sebastian Rosenberg

Sebastian Rosenberg, a senior lecturer at the Brain and Mind Institute (for those playing at home, the same Institute that Ian Hickie heads), has written a piece for the Canberra Times.  It would be sweet to see friends sticking together as such, if it weren't reministant of playground bullies gathering together in order to take our lunches away.  For our own good of course *insert sarcasm*.

As part of his piece, Rosenberg writes "Mark Butler has travelled widely and has proven himself a willing listener. There is never a shortage of complaints in mental health so this is no small thing. Butler is now, as I understand it, formally the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Mental Health. This moves him and his portfolio responsibilities clearly out of the realm of health and gives him licence, indeed obligation, to work with Jenny Macklin's Department of Family and Community Services, Tanya Plibersek and Mark Arbib in Housing, and Chris Evans and Kate Ellis in Employment and Education in relation to mental health."

So let me clear this up for people who may not have had the pleasure of attending the two online "forums" I have; and that Mark Butler has "attended" in order to provide a QandA session...  The term ButlerBot has come about for very good reason.  Mark Butler has answered very few questions, and only those that could be answered with what has been an obviously predetermined response that puts forth the usual government spin.  Both times there were photo's of him sitting at his computer - while I didn't bother wasting my download limit, I suspect they were probably very similar.  Indeed the description both times of him being in his PJ's seemed to put forth the idea that the photo's were just for show.  Who knows?

I have talked to many people after both events, and am yet to hear anything positive about their experiences.  Not surprising really, given how obvious it was to all that Mark Butler couldn't have given a rats arse about anyone there, or anything that was discussed.  He had an agenda of selling the latest budget and he stuck to it like glue.

Not impressed.  Tell us what we don't want to hear - but don't just ignore us while pretending to give a shit.

While I'm sure that Mark Butler has been making good use of some frequent flier miles (or at least acquiring them), I doubt very much that he's listening to anyone who isn't singing his praises.

As for how well he'll do with his new title of Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Mental Health - I'm hardly sitting by waiting on the wings of anticipation.

"Butler has stated that the Government's support for a commission is based heavily on community support for such an entity. In my view, such support reflects fatigue with the same old debates and the same old voices and interests."
Based heavily on community support hey?  Well, you know what?  I think that one of the few things the government and McGorry Crew have done well is unite the country around the issue of mental health.  They've done this so well, that few are asking the pertinent question of "Show Me The Money".  All the community knows is that there is some, and they're happy as.  And who can blame them?  Mental health has had a bad rap for - well, ever.

We may have new voices and interests - and yes - wait - we have new interests.  The new voices are not the welcome change we've all been hoping for - indeed instead of the apathy of old, what we're finding is greed and conflicts of interest.  Lack of full disclosure.  And lies that on the one hand are working really well, and on the other hand, to anyone who is actually looking for the money trail, makes my two year old look like a professional.

We may have new voices, but we have the same shit behind them - money and power.

"Consumers and carers are used to being ignored as government departments and many service providers make arrangements to suit themselves rather than their clients."
This. Is. Fucking. Rich.

Consumer and carers are STILL being ignored.  And a couple of service providers have done well to screw over a majority of mental health consumers this year, suiting themselves nicely, not to mention suiting their bottom line, their current projects, and their end-game.

"Poor services retain their funding while effective services miraculously lose their funding. New service options struggle to emerge and when they do, ugly and ill-founded public controversy often arises. Witness the public vitriol associated with the emergence of a national roll-out of the Orygen model of early intervention for youth psychosis. Commentators like Janet Albrechtsen criticise McGorry for his role in ''politicising'' mental health. From its base in a series of demountable dongas in Carlton, Melbourne, Pat McGorry's service has led the world in demonstrating the benefit of early intervention in psychosis in young people. Supporting this new service does not mean we ignore the mental health of children, adults or the elderly. It simply means that piece by piece, Australian governments are being poked, prodded and persuaded into developing a range of mental health services designed to cover all ages. If this is political then so be it."
We're still talking about mental health right?  What effective services?  Oh, do you mean Better Access, which just had it's arse handed to it?  That one?

McGorry has led the world in jack shit.  The Orygen model of early intervention is a joke. It's that much of a joke, that prominent psychiatrists overseas are scratching their heads.

And when you cut programs like Better Access (cuts which affect a hell of a lot of kids with psychosis too, given the very few EPPIC centres around) - you ARE "ignoring the mental health of children, adults and the elderly".  Whether it is political or not is up for debate.  What isn't up for debate is the fact that it very fucking sad to watch.

"It follows that a key role for the new National Mental Health Commission must be as an independent arbiter of what works, what should be funded and, importantly, what should be de-funded."

True that.  What a shame it's never going to happen, when the likes of McGorry and Hickie have their claws in everything and our Hon Mark Butler lacks the balls to tell them both to piss off.

"Mental health needs not only more funding but also to make sure it is spent in accordance with the evidence."
Then why aren't you?  Better Access was working well and some bastards convinced the government to cut it in favour of something that may or may not work (and if it doesn't - could do a hell of a lot of long-term harm).  And even if EPPIC and headspace DO work - they reach such a small number of people it's ridiculous.  One senate inquiry submission put the number of clients seen at a headspace centre to be 17 in a month (Number 483, p. 17).  Not one particular month, but as an average.  Put that money into Better Access and how many could have been helped?

(Edited 5th October 2011 - I had mistakenly put 17 clients at an EPPIC centre, whereas I should have written "headspace centre".  My apologies to all, and thanks to the person who pointed out my error :) ).

"The Government has already committed itself to the task of developing a 10-year road map for mental health, though it is yet to make clear what if any role the new commission will play in this. A simple re-hash of the fourth National Mental Health Plan will leave an expectant mental health sector feeling very let down. This plan has no goals, no targets and commits no one to anything."
Quite frankly, I'd prefer a plan that has no backbone, to the severe fucking over mental health consumers are seeing at the moment.  At least it leaves things open for discussion and debate.  Something I'm sure is a new concept to some of our current players.

"The Government has appointed Robyn Kruk as chief executive to the commission. An experienced and able health administrator, she will have her work cut out to bring these various threads together but in this, she will have the strong backing of a mental health sector keen to ensure that the next 20 years of plans deliver more than the past 20 years. "

I don't know much about Robyn Kruk - however a quick Google search finds that she's been doing a fair bit for the environment lately - not health. 

"The capacity of the commission to build strong partnerships with key organisations in the sector will also be critical. The recent resignation of Dawn O'Neil as chief executive of Beyond Blue is a significant blow in this regard. The ex-chief executive of Lifeline and Deputy Chair of the Mental Health Council of Australia, Dawn had demonstrated commitment to reform and innovation in mental health over many years. In an environment characterised by a lack of resources, Beyond Blue is the largest non-government organisation operating in the area of mental health promotion and awareness.
Under Dawn's leadership, it had begun to show a willingness to support a range of new services and research and from such a huge and influential organisation, this was both very significant and welcome."

Jeff Kennett shows his bigotry against the LBGTI community, there's some scuffling behind closed doors and Dawn O'Neil quits.  My first question was - did she try to out him (and for good bloody reason) and he and  his buddies kicked her out?

"In an environment characterised by a lack of resources..."  WTF?  Beyond Blue is making a profit - quite substantial profits - each year.  2009 - $7 278 315, and 2010 - $1 258 758 (2009/2010 Annual Report, p. 76).

Not that we can be that surprised by anything Beyond Blue does.  In the above report, they state:

"During the 2009-10 financial year, more than 4.2 million Better Access Medicare-subsidised mental health services were accessed by Australians living with mental illness... The number of people who have received primary mental health services clearly demonstrates the need for such subsidies" (p. 57).

Yet, in their submission to the Senate Inquiry, they state:

"The rationalisation of GP and allied health services through the Better Access program is justified. It enables the redirection of funds to other mental health programs and services, which focus on prevention, early intervention, and increasing access to services...The majority of people with depression and anxiety seeking treatment through the Better Access program will not be impacted by the reduction to the number of allied health services" (p. 4).
Clearly their opinion is driven by the given mood of whoever is in charge on the day.  Either that or they just put forth whatever bullshit they've decided to swallow in order to... well, what exactly I don't know.  Not sure about their end-game yet.  I'll find out eventually.  I suspect it's nothing more than an easy pay cheque.

Sebastian - I hope for damn sure you're getting paid well for your soul.

A few Bupa shares perhaps?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dear Mr Hickie

I am what you might have thought of when you referred to "armchair critics" in your opinion piece in Fairfax Media on the 23rd September.  I am a mother of two, and a mental health consumer.  I am also a "critic" of the new mental health reforms.

First of all, you speak of "$2.2 billion to new programs".  Let's be honest shall we?  It is NOT for new programs, it is for the total mental health budget.  And it is the total mental health budget for the next five years - a point that seems lost on some.  It is not even the correct figure.

The total spend over the next five years is $1 463 300 000.  $316 200 200 was already earmarked from previous budgets, so only $1 147 100 000 is actually new money.  $1.1 billion is a far cry from $2.2 billion.  I'm not even totally sure where the $2.2 billion figure comes from, other than political spin, because I can't find it anywhere.  Even the government here, says the budget spend over the next five years is $1.5 billion.  For now, I'll assume that they mean their Ten Year Road Map for mental health or something.

Aside from all this however, is the $580 500 000 that has been cut from Better Access.  $580 million CUT from the budget.  $580 million that people such as myself will now have to find.

Your article points out that the changes "will greatly increase the number of services provided and, most importantly, access for those with the least capacity to pay privately".  I am on the Disability Support Pension, and as my carer, my husband is on the Carer's Payment.  I consider us to be about the least capable of paying as you can get.  Ideally, I need to see my psychologist every fortnight.  Every week would be great, but I don't mind keeping it real.  The current eighteen session cut off leaves me with eight fortnights to find the full fee myself.  After the changes go through, I will have to find the money for sixteen full fees.  Possibly twenty, depending on what the criteria is for the additional four sessions.

I have heard of all manner of other alternatives, and I can assure you that I have either tried them to no avail (medication, inpatient services), or been turned away (public mental health outpatient services).  ATAPS is not an option as I don't know a GP who is eligible to refer, and other GP's here have totally closed their books to new patients.

Seeing my current psychologist is the first time I have felt "better".  And that is about to be ripped away from me because I can't afford to pay the full fee privately.  Your argument on behalf of those least able to pay makes no sense at all to the people who are actually living it.

In addition to this, I will have to come up with the same fees for my son, who has Asperger's and needs psychological appointments to help him learn how to regulate his emotions.  As he was diagnosed after his sixth birthday, we are not eligible for funding from the Helping Children With Autism Package.  This is on top of his speech therapy and occupational therapy - a total out of pocket of $285 a fortnight.  We live rurally - there is no other alternative for him here and we are not in a position to move.

Let us step back for a moment, and suppose that these new services WILL cater to our needs.  Our sessions run out on November 1st of this year.  This mental health reform is a five year plan.  At what stage in that five years is our local area going to see some new services that we can utilise?  What are we to do in the meantime?

And let us not forget the issue of continuity of care shall we?  I've been seeing my psychologist for three years.  In that time, I've developed a physical disability.  Most of our sessions to date have been dealing with issues that have arisen from that, thus, even after three years, my psychologist is still acquiring my history given I've led quite the eventful life.  To change over to another service will mean all that time is lost - wasted - as I will have to start over with someone new.

The second point you raised was the issue of attacks on the evidence of the new approaches, and indeed, exactly what these new approaches consist of.  Given that I am not a health care professional, I can not in good conscious debate that point in detail here.  I will say however, that I have done enough tertiary study in statistical analysis to be highly sceptical of the studies I have read.  The outright lies (such as $2.2 billion of new money), do not help your credibility either. Nor does the fact that yourself, and many of your cohorts, fail to disclose any potential conflicts of interest.

Your third point that "academic voices have expressed concern that expanding services to include early intervention will come at the expense of desperately under-developed services for those with chronic or persistent illness" and that "no such debate characterises similar advances in cancer or heart care" can be rebutted with a simple - in other areas of medicine, early intervention is added to advanced treatment.  In the case of the last budget, funding was taken away from the only advanced treatment that some of us have available to us (Better Access).

The fourth and final argument you stated is that "a very peculiar commentary proposes that mental health academics should not engage with the broader public debate".  From what I've seen, there seems to be more of a concern that some of those academics have their own agenda's to push at the detriment of consumers; and that consumers themselves need to consulted as well (which is not happening effectively), as they know best what works for them.  And usually what works best for us is choice, because we are all individuals and we all need different things, even if our "diagnoses" are the same.

Your final statement that "those governments (including NSW) that are making genuine attempts to develop a mental health system of which we can all be proud need the public's support" is truly a laugh.  If the current developments were indeed "genuine", I imagine there wouldn't be such opposition to them.

And so Mr Hickie - your arguments may work at your dinner parties with friends - but down here in the dirt where we struggle every day living this nightmare - your arguments simply smell like bullshit.

Note: In order to keep this blog relatively small enough to read in one sitting, I have left out quite a few finer points - and there are many many finer points.  Please don't think that they have escaped me.  I simply wanted to keep this as an overview rebuttal of the article Mr Hickie wrote.

Figures from the 2011-2012 budget.
Delivering National Mental Health Reform

Total funding Old funding New funding
Leadership in mental health reform $64,100,000.00 $64,100,000.00
Coordinated care and flexible funding for people with severe and persistant mental illness $549,900,000.00 $206,100,000.00 $343,800,000.00
National Mental Health Commission $32,000,000.00 $19,800,000.00 $12,200,000.00
Mental Health Online Portal $14,400,000.00
ATAPS $205,900,000.00
Support for day to day living in the community program $19,300,000.00
Expansion youth mental health - headspace $197,300,000.00
Health and well being checks for three year olds $11,000,000.00
National partnership agreement on mental health $201,300,000.00
Research funding $26,200,000.00 $26,200,000.00
Family mental health support services $61,000,000.00
Employment services $2,400,000.00
Four mental health infrastructure projects $78,500,000.00

$1,463,300,000.00 $316,200,000.00 $1,147,100,000.00

Better Access Initiative - rationalisation of allied health treatment sessions -$174,600,000.00

Better Access Initiative - rationalisation of GP mental health services -$405,900,000.00


Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Day In The Life Of The Suicidal - Governments take note.

Yeah, this could get depressing.  So if you're feeling suicidally inclined yourself (or even just a bit sad), then best to read something else.

Or not.  Your choice.

I really hate it when people tell me not to read depressing things when I'm suicidal or upset.  Like something that someone else is going through is going to set me off.  Because obviously having a mental illness equates to having absolutely no free will whatsoever.  There may be people out there who need a babysitter when it comes to literary choices, but I reckon they're a lot fewer than people think.  Reading the crap that other people go through actually makes it better - more normal and less lonely.

Wow.  A whole big paragraph and I haven't sworn yet.  That's gotta be some kind of fucking record.


So, in case you haven't guessed, I'm not having the best of days.  Screw that.  I'm suicidal, no two ways about it.

I have body spasms.  Every second, or every minute, or every hour, depending on my level of thought at the time. The more I think, the harder and faster they come.  The bad thing about them is that they scare the kids, they jolt my already painful joints so they hurt like a bitch, and they're just plain annoying.  The good thing about them is that for a few seconds, they release the tension in my body.

Downstairs, I have an art centre.  An easel my husband made for me and an old set of drawers with paints and brushes and what-not in them.  It's nothing much, but it's perfect.  The only thing that is missing is some decent music, because I haven't got around to doing that yet.  An hour ago, my husband tried to convince me to do some art, to see if that would help.

Husband: Why don't you go downstairs and do some artwork?
Me: (thinking about all the prep I'd have to do first - jerk - my body, not my husband). Yeah, maybe not.

Just thinking about putting the effort into something sets me off.  Which is annoying as all hell, because my brain is raring to go.  I want to do art, I want to sing, I want to go for a drive, I want to go for a swim, I want to take the kids to the park.  And when I think about doing these things, I end up a jerking mess.

Thankfully, this is typed, or else you wouldn't be able to read it.

I feel sick.  Every time I get up I feel like I'm going to throw up.  I'm light headed.  Every ounce of my body is screaming at me to get back into bed.

Between the jerks/spasms, and the inability to actually get up off my arse and do something, I feel pretty damn useless.  Yes, logically I know I'm not.  But being suicidal isn't about logic.

I've been fighting my whole 33 years.  Fighting my mother.  Fighting my abusive boyfriend.  Fighting depression and PTSD.  Fighting physical pain.

Enough already.  I'm done.  My body is done.  I need a rest.

No one can take my physical pain away.  I have Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and that is that.  As for the emotional/mental pain... well...

We're bombarded with messages that if we feel suicidal, then we should call Lifeline, or some other call centre.  But seriously - what are they going to do?  What can they tell me that I haven't already considered?  Is there some great big solution to everything out there that I haven't thought about?  No, there isn't.  The only way to get through this, if I decide to, is to grit my teeth and wait it out as best I can.

I'm not a beginner here.  I've learned my meditation, and know to snap a rubber band against my wrist instead of cutting, and I've got "forget the next day - just get through the next hour, or the next minute" down pat.  There are great big lists of things to do in an emergency, and they are fantastic.  It's just - they don't work any more for me.  Or at least, they don't work all the time.  And I don't need to hear someone tell me something I already know like I either don't already know it, or like I'm just not trying hard enough.  I don't need someone who doesn't know me trying to tell me how to pick myself up.  It's not like my cat died, or my boyfriend broke up with me.

I know that it's politically incorrect to say that one person's pain is "more" than another's.  I'm actually not trying to say that.  If anything, the pain of a teenager who has just had their heart broken is far worse than what I am experiencing, which is not really pain so much as it's exhaustion.  Maybe that is why the standard shit doesn't work.

Once it becomes clear to call centre volunteers that my situation isn't going to be resolved with the therapy equivalent of a Hallmark card, they usually suggest presenting at hospital.  The last time I presented at hospital voluntarily for being suicidal, I was told that they weren't a babysitting service.

If I want someone to make me feel like shit under their shoe, I'll go visit my mother.

Plus, I want to see how Nikita turns out on Tuesday night.  So I'm good till Wednesday at least.

I have a bunch of ideas of how we can improve the mental health system.  Ideas that include everyone, because they assume nothing.  What we have now is a stock standard answer:

* Call someone (great but what if it doesn't work?  What if you require more than a chat with a stranger?)
* Go to hospital (safe, but boring, not good for getting someone in the "life is great" mood, and there's rarely enough beds anyway).
* See a psychiatrist (few of whom do therapy.  Most simply give a diagnosis and dispense medication, and few people can afford the gap fees anyway).
* Go to the public mental health team etc (ATAPS, CAT etc) (these are underfunded or mismanaged to the point that they only take psychosis cases.  There is little to no ongoing therapy for anyone else, and after I found out that my local team put a 10 year old on enough medication to kill a horse - no thanks).


* See your psychologist.  Except the government has just cut the number of Medicare rebatable sessions from 18 to 10.


Even with 18 this year, I've only two left.  She's great and all, but two sessions in three and a half months when I'm this suicidal is like trying to get a hurricane to reverse itself by blowing at it.  Next year I'll be allowed ten sessions.  May as well just let the fucking hurricane come by and sweep me up.  Use my energy to enjoy the ride, rather than try to fight the inevitable.  Leave her time to treat those who actually have a chance.

There are a lot of people at the moment speaking of their concern for people with a mental illness.  If they were so fucking concerned, they would be asking us what we need, instead of sprouting their own shit with a few token "consumers" here and there on their committees just to make it look good.  I don't want to hear from the people who have been saved by the current system so that Assholes (the capital A was intentional) like Patrick McGorry and Ian Hickie can get funding for their little pet projects.  I don't want to hear from the government who decides to put money into these projects, and pulls it out of other things that work so that they can (and in doing so, completely ignoring the over 25 year old demographic).

I want to hear from the people like me.  The ones who have been there and done that and have a fire to make some real changes.  People like me that know ANY committee that isn't comprised of consumers with at least a decade of experience in attempting to get well and being shit on, simply isn't going to get the job done properly.

I want to hear the fucking truth already.  Because I simply don't have the RAM left in my addled brain, to be arsed hearing anything else.  I want something that actually has a chance in hell of working to be considered for a change.  I want hope, so that I can consider living for tomorrow.