Monday, August 9, 2010


Last week in Cairns a young lady was found brutally stabbed in her apartment and died at the scene. She was a 24 year old mother of a 5 year old girl and by all accounts was a responsible, well-liked member of the community.

A young man from Kewarra Beach was charged with her murder almost immediately afterwards and is appearing in court later to face the charges. He handed himself in to police but they are still searching for the knife used.

According to reports the man in question had made several recent appearances at the Cairns Base Hospital Mental Health Unit for short stays but was turned away most recently because on the previous occasion he had broken windows and generally trashed the place. This was, according to his father, a cry for help, one which even the most casual observer could recognise.

The Mental Health Unit in Cairns has what is referred to as a revolving door. This is because there are not enough acute beds for those requiring help, and more importantly, nowhere to go when released. This has got to be addressed.

How can we claim that our hospital system is improving and will be more effective and user-friendly if our Mental Health facilities continue to be ignored? One ABC report stated that there are 18 acute care beds in the Hospital and approximately 3'000 people living in the region with mental health related problems. Can anyone else see the problem with that statistic?

I am not suggesting that all those suffering from mental health issues require hospital stays or most especially, acute care, but the numbers that do must be higher than the bed count. How can we justify turning patients away when they so very obviously require assistance? How can we place all the blame onto a young man who's cries for help were ignored?

It is true that the young man in question has committed this crime, even he has admitted it. It is true that this is not a crime that should go unpunished, it is horrific and brutal, that much must be acknowledged. The family and friends of the young lady (especially her little girl) will never forget what has occured and their lives will be changed forever because of this mans' actions. His life will also be forever changed.

There have been many incidences in Australia's history that feature a brutal crime perpetrated by a person with mental health problems. There have been incidences where police have had to use deadly force to subdue them. Mothers have attacked or killed their babies, fathers have killed entire families, others have wantonly destroyed the lives of strangers.

At what point do we recognise the need for this to stop? When will the desperate pleas for help finally be heard and addressed? Will people struggling with their inner demons always feel out of control, with no one to turn to? Will this crisis continue unabated and unfunded until it becomes the politicians who's lives are directly affected which finally makes them sit up and notice what is happening?

We need more acute care beds....NOW! We need more facilities for those needing care after leaving hospital.....NOW!! We need better recognition of mental health illnesses in the wider community.......NOW!! We need more adequate care for those requiring short term help in dealing with anxiety, depression, Agoraphobia etc.....NOW!! We need a better system for new parents that makes them seek help if they need it.....NOW!! We need better services that compliment councelling for those struggling with a divorce or family break-up.....NOW!!

We need to give our entire community all the help it needs to allow us all to remain safe, well and at peace........NOW!!!


  1. Hi Leigh. Here's my opinion as a registered nurse of 23 years , emergency experience for 18 years, worked in Melb, Syd, Geelong, remote & rural FNQ & at CBH in most of the units, though predominantly in the Emergency Department where many Mental Health patients initially present.

    There are some very good programs & systems in place for Mental Health. Those 3000 patients (is that all) living in the region with Mental Health problems will have varying degrees of illness & require varying degrees of intervention. Many are well managed by their GP's & never need to see a psychiatrist.

    The CBH MHU treats in-patients in their High Dependency Unit or Low DU, & out-patients both on & off campus and have treatment facilities, with drop ins welcome, in the community.

    There is no question there is a lack of beds in Mental Health. The Emergency Dept is constantly overflowing with Mental Health in-patients (those that need to be admitted). The Mental Health Unit is indeed being expanded & the Emergency Department is developing a Mental Health Pod as part of its redevelopment. So the issue is being addressed. Adequately??? Well there is more to the issue than just creating beds...

    You need to staff them as well. There is not a pool of Mental Health Nurses just waiting in the wings for jobs to become available. Most Registered Nurses working in the MH field have their nursing degree then undertake further study in Mental Health down the track. Not just any nurse can take care of these patients...

    There is more to this story. Keep an eye on Cairnsblog for further enlightenment on the issue of the shortage of beds in CBH & the strain on Health Services. I have more to write on this before I post it...

  2. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for the insight.

    My problem with this is that the even with the new beds proposed, there will not be enough. I also have a huge problem with the 3000 figure, it must surely be much higher. It appears that the real issue is not with the hospital, although that must be addressed, but with the diagnosis of mental health illness. I know many people who knew that something was up, they were feeling out of control and anxious, suffering panic attacks and general anxiety. These people recieved a response from the doctors along the lines of......"You are a strong person, you will get over it....try not to think about it so much and it will eventually pass."

    What on earth were the doctors thinking? How many people throughout the community visit the GP and get the same response? How many are suffering alone as a result?

    I am not arguing that the facilities are not there and the psychiatrists in Cairns are excellent, but I do think that there are too many people trying to 'get over' their problems without the support and help they need.

    It is proven that most anxiety based (Panic Disorder, Agoraphobia, Post-Natal Depression, Depression, etc) Mental Health concerns can be overcome with early intervention and a long term plan, in conjunction with GP's Psychologists, Psychiatrists and medications.

    Without early diagnosis, however, they will never be truly well.