On Tuesday 10 October, the Gold Coast Bulletin, a News Corp paper, sensationalised data from the Qld Chief Psychiatrist's report tabled in State Parliament the previous week. The headline was shameful: "Dangerous Patients Escape Hospital" (With a sub) "MORE than 50 dangerous patients have escaped from mental health units on the Gold Coast in an eight-month period".
The headline was what I would call dog whistle media - designed to incite fear and prejudice toward people with mental illness in the community.
In response, I forwarded a letter to the editor and the senior executives. The letter was not published. So, I have published it here.
The report in the Bulletin (10/10/2017) ”Dangerous patients escaping hospital” is particularly concerning to me.
Firstly, it is regrettable that such a sensationalist, stigmatising and unbalanced report should be printed at all, but to do so on World Mental Health Day, is beyond words. This is a day, October 10th, dedicated to raising awareness of mental illness and providing support to the millions of Australians who experience a mental health condition every year.
Secondly it is a regrettable, and uninformed contribution from state MP John Paul Langbroek. I was only talking to his leader, Tim Nicholls on Sunday at a wonderful event in Brisbane – the Walk for Awareness. We have an enormous level of bi-partisanship across the political spectrum on mental health – the exception is One Nation.
Thirdly, the article promotes the idea that we must have locked mental health wards. The locked ward policy of the Newman Government was a disaster for good care, de-stigmatising mental health and voluntary treatment. There is not a mental health expert in the country that would support that approach.
The locked ward policy was a factor in the death of my nephew, Gold Coast resident and veteran, Jeff Mendoza in Nov 2014. He refused to be admitted to the ward because it was subject to the locked ward provision. He would have been a voluntary patient (not considered a ‘classified patient’) under the Act. He was willing to be in hospital but not in the Mental Health ward. Within 36 hours after discharge he was dead. His is not an isolated case.
What we need is informed debate about mental health care needs in our community, not this sort of fear invoking, sensationalism.
Adj Professor John Mendoza