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G17: The Growing Mental Health Crisis in Australia

The next meeting of the 17 Group will take place on Wednesday the 4th of November in unit 6 at 20 Drury St, West End. The topic is “The Growing Mental Health Crisis in Australia”. It will be addressed by Hugh Childers, out of a long history both academic and personal of involvement with the topic of Mental Health.

Here are the headings of the talk:

1. Who am I and why am I doing this?

2. The ground-breaking report from the Australian National Mental Health Commission A Review Of Mental Health Programs And Services completed in November 2014 and leaked to the media in April 2015

3. What five things do we need to know about mental health?

4. A quick overview of the evolution of public mental health services over 150 years

5. Issues around the massive increase in use of pharmaceuticals and the role of ‘big pharma’ in treatment

6. The training of psychiatrists, particularly the domination of their role by the college of psychiatry in Australia

7. The huge question confronting us: are things getting worse in mental health? An overview of the many factors that may play a part

8. The unique human tragedy of self- harm/suicide: detection, diagnosis, treatment

9. What can we do as citizens/voters/parents/family/friends to try and make things better?

Brief biographical notes on Hugh Childers:

Hugh is a UQ graduate from that interesting period from 1965-68 during which he first met Dan O’Neill and was a member of SDA. He has an Economics degree with Honours in Government and later completed a Masters in Public Administration.

He was awarded the UQ Postgraduate Public Administration Prize in 1994. This award was based on his GPA and also on his commended Masters thesis in the M Pub Admin course. The thesis topic was a history of medical intern training in Queensland in the context of the inadequacy and inflexibility of the models underlying much of medical education and training and also on the inability of all the professional bodies and State governments over decades to change a system that was inadequate and verging on broken. So he is coming to this debate about mental health with an evidence-based perspective while not claiming to be any kind of expert on the topic.

He worked for almost 10 years in the 1980s-1990s in Queensland postgraduate medical education but otherwise has no medical or health science qualifications. His view of mental health is one shaped by life experience, both individually as a sufferer from clinical depression and as the father of Paul, who battled with Bi-Polar Disorder for 25 years until his death while a patient at Prince Charles Hospital. The views in the paper are based on experience of the system and the aftermath of Paul’s death in 2012 which drove some extensive reading and research.

The starting point for this topic is the release in April 2015 of the most extensive and well-researched set of recommendations on mental health in Australian history, a report on mental health programs and services produced by the National Mental Health Commission.

Leon had already got news (telepathically?) of the topic before we turned up to make our usual unavailing attempt to enlist his polymathic expertise. As we entered we caught him muttering the words “paranoid… should have been perhaps…”, and then softly intoning a passage from his famous autobiography which was open before him…

“…the living, breathing Lenin. His health continued to grow worse. In March, his head aches grew more frequent. The doctors found no organic disorders, however, and prescribed a prolonged rest. Lenin settled down permanently in a Moscow village. And it was there that he had his first stroke, early in May. It seems that Lenin had been taken ill two days before Bukharin’s visit. Why had I been told nothing about it? At the time, I never thought of being suspicious. “We did not want to disturb you,” Bukharin told me, “and were waiting to see how his illness would develop.” Bukharin spoke quite sincerely, merely repeating what the “grown-ups” had persuaded him into believing. At that time, Bukharin was attached to me in his characteristic “Bukharin” way, half hysterically, half childishly. He finished his account of Lenin’s illness by dropping down on my bed and muttering, as he pressed his arms about me over the blanket: “Don’t you get sick, I implore you, don’t get sick … There are two men of whose death I always think with horror … Lenin and you.” I rallied him in a friendly way to restore his poise. He was preventing me from concentrating on the alarm that his news had caused. The blow was overwhelming. It seemed as if the revolution itself were holding its breath…”

Looking at us in his knowing way, he repeated more slowly the words “At the time, I never thought of being suspicious…” He stared at us with his customary posthumous irony and laughed his bitterest laugh, as he resumed his musing…”Nor even up to the fateful 21st of August 1940. Bad day for the world. A bit of paranoia might have served me well. On March the 5th in 1953 I moved down briefly from the first circle ( in the exalted company of Vergil and Dante ) to the bottom circle, the worst circle, the circle of traitors, and I said all this sarcastically to the just-arrived Josef. But he was too busy being eaten by the great Satan to pay much attention. But I have often asked myself… If you are not paranoid will that stop them from being after you?’’

We didn’t think we knew enough psychology or world history to answer his question, so we left with our usual crestfallen disappointment. But you, our faithful friend, overcome your disappointment, and even, if need be, your paranoia, and come to the unfortunately Leonless gathering.

Dan O’Neill

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