In mental health, every system failure has a name…

Frank Quinlan, Mental Health Australia, wrote:

“In mental health, every system failure has a name…

Two separate but related events this week reinforced for me just how important it is for those who live with the experience of mental health issues to be central to the planning, implementation and evaluation of interventions aimed at supporting contributing lives.

On Tuesday, at the 2018 National Roundtable on the Mental Health of People with Intellectual Disability, Michael Sullivan provided one of the opening addresses, alongside the NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard. Michael is the Vice Chair of the Council of Intellectual Disability (link is external), and lives with intellectual disability. Michael implored the delegates at the roundtable to remember that people with intellectual disability are people with a name, people with a story, people with potential, people with hopes and dreams. In short: people.

In his address, he encouraged us to address people by name. A powerful reminder that people are not their labels, are not their demographic categories, and are not the sum of their problems.

On Monday, at the parliamentary launch of Australians for Mental Health (link is external) hosted by the wonderful Jessica Rowe, four different perspectives on mental health issues were presented by four people living with direct experience of the failures of our current systems.

Rachael, a young woman who experienced inferior, depersonalised care when she sought help for her mental distress, manifest in part as an eating disorder.

Frank, my namesake, and a father who had sold his house in order to fund mental health treatment for his son who experienced treatment that was confounded by drug dependence. Frank now awaits his son’s release from prison with optimism and determination.

Jamie, who in his own words described the impact of social exclusion, fragmented care, and poor follow-up on his efforts to live a contributing life.

Kerrie, a mother who lost not one, but two sons to suicide, notwithstanding her exhaustive efforts to ensure they had received all the care and support our broken system had to offer.

The launch of Australians for Mental Health is an important reminder that each failure to provide timely, evidence based care to most of the 4 million Australians who experience mental illness each year has a name. Each failure is a lost opportunity. Each failure wastes vast human capital.

Australians for Mental Health aims to build a popular, personal, movement. Advocating for radical system reformation, for appropriate funding, and for proper recognition that mental health issues deserve the same level of care as any other conditions treated by our health system. An inclusive movement driven by people who want to see change.

On Monday, I joined those present at the launch in shedding tears as Rachael, Frank, Jamie and Kerrie recounted their experiences. Like others, I felt a deep sense of responsibility to work even harder to progress the kind of reforms that could prevent others from experiencing similar failures. On Tuesday, Michael provided a further reminder of the human costs of our failure to acknowledge the rights of people living with intellectual disability.

Every one of our failures has a name, but so does every advocate for change.”