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Preventative funding needed

TRAGIC: Deaths such as Michael Corkhill’s will continue unless funding holes in mental health services are plugged, professionals warn.
TRAGIC: Deaths such as Michael Corkhill’s will continue unless funding holes in mental health services are plugged, professionals warn.

MENTAL health worker Michael Corkhill was not the first person allegedly murdered on the Northern Rivers by someone with a mental illness.

Nor will he be the last unless the mental health system is overhauled, several mental health professionals, some with more than 30 years' experience working in the region, warned yesterday.

"It happens every few years," said a mental health professional who asked to remain anonymous.

"They are punctuation marks in the progress of mentally ill people."

The professional said some people living with schizophrenia could become violent towards people they know and trust. Health care workers, parents and children number among past victims.

"There have been at least half-a- dozen murders by people living with schizophrenia on the Northern Rivers over the last 30-odd years," the expert said.

However, most people with schizophrenia are no threat to others and never come under the eye of the law.

No one spoken to for this article argued people with mental issues should be institutionalised; rather they bemoaned the lack of services to support them in the community.

When a parent was murdered at Evans Head, the Government responded to the outcry by building Lismore's Richmond Clinic. And when another was killed a couple years later at Richmond Hill, the response was more community mental health staff.

However, while the Government funds services at the acute end of treatment, little is spent on preventing patients reaching this stage, mental health experts said.

Mental Health Clinic deputy chief executive Sebastian Rosenberg said Australia spent about 7 per cent of its health budget on mental health, well below the OECD average of 12pc.

"There is significant under-funding across the State, particularly in our region where you have lifestyle issues like drug use," he said.

NSW shadow health minister Kevin Humphries contacted The Northern Star yesterday after reading about Mr Corkhill's death.

"Due to a lack of beds, staff and facilities, patients are often released from hospitals well before they should be," he said, blaming a lack of funding.

"Not only are we hearing of patients losing their lives, but carers are being put in danger due to their role in the mental health system."

The professional who spoke on the condition of anonymity said the biggest flaw in the system was under-funding of non-government groups that had taken up the role forsaken by the government after it implemented the Richmond Report, designed to integrate mentally ill people into the community.

About mental illness

• 20pc of Australians will experience mental illness.

• Two-thirds of people with a mental illness do not receive treatment over a 12-month period.

• A study of the homeless in Sydney found 75 per cent had mental health issues.

• 78pc of male and 90pc of female prisoners had a psychotic disorder 12 months before going in jail.


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