A lack of appropriate support networks can lead to mental health problems later in life, according to the Mental Health Review Board annual report.

The report, tabled in state Parliament in September, shows that just 220 of the 2523 patients who attended review hearings had family there to support them. A further 28 had friends at their hearing, which was to determine whether they would continue as an involuntary patient of the state.

Mental Health Review Board legal officer Christine Denyer says that, from her personal perspective, the statistics show that a lack of support through troubled times could lead directly to a date with the board.

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“My personal thoughts are that these statistics probably show just how marginalised these people are,” Denyer said. “I would have a lot of family and friends at a hearing like this. But I guess having a mental illness can alienate them from friends and family and put people off.”

Denyer says there has been no recent study by the board to determine whether there is a direct link between patients, their upbringing and their support networks.

According to estimates based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data, between 21.% and 23.5% of children living in Victoria — about 250,000 children — live in households where a parent has a mental illness.

The ABS estimates 34,666 children in Victoria live in 18,502 homes where a parent has a severe mental illness and is being assisted by specialist mental health services.

The board’ s annual report noted that while the statistics it contained about the number of hearings and cases were accurate, the breakdown of those totals was not.  In particular, the table relating to discharge determinations was wrong:

“Over recent years the board’s annual reports have referred to ongoing flaws and vulnerabilities in the operation of the current case management system. Statistical reports have also been accompanied by a disclaimer that some figures were not reliable. During 2010-11 these issues became more acute.”

In the short term, it had introduced some manual strategies to try to overcome what it called “systemic error”.  Longer term, the Department of Health was in the process of buying a new case management system for it.

The state government has also recently announced a series of steps to improve support for children from troubled homes. Mental Health Minister Mary Wooldridge has said that children from troubled homes have a greater chance of suffering from a mental illness.

“The nature of the experiences these children and young people have had in their lives warrants them getting priority access to the range of services that they so desperately need,” she said.

“Not surprisingly, children and young people who have experienced significant trauma have a higher incidence of mental health and behaviours such as substance abuse and self harm. We recognise that we need to take action for children who have been neglected and abused to support them to get their lives back on track.”

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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