Community discussion highlights issues of mental health care in Geraldton

Jamie ThannooGeraldton Guardian
The National Mental Health Commission met with the community to give a space for open conversation.
Camera IconThe National Mental Health Commission met with the community to give a space for open conversation. Credit: National Mental Health Commission

A cultural stigma, lack of services and being ignored by medical experts not trained for treating mental illness were some of the major concerns raised at a community event in Geraldton this week.

The forum, organised by the National Mental Health Commission, saw residents express their dissatisfaction with mental health care and suicide prevention in Geraldton.

Geraldton locals were invited by the commission on Tuesday to give their thoughts on mental health treatment and possible solutions.

Participants told difficult stories of their struggles with mental illness and trying to get help for themselves and their families.

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One participant said there was more ignorance towards mental illness in Geraldton compared to other parts of Australia.

“What needs to change in our community is the stigma we have for someone who is facing mental health challenges, and feeling safe and supported to admitting that you are facing challenges,” they said.

Another participant said they felt there weren’t enough mental health services open outside working hours, and said too much was expected of police who aren’t properly trained to deal with mental health issues.

Multiple participants said they felt judged by doctors and nurses, who they said, instead of listening to them, would often assume they abused alcohol and drugs.

Another issue raised was delays to Geraldton Regional Hospital’s upgrades, which would include a dedicated psychiatric ward.

“We have been promised this for years and nothing is getting done,” a participant said.

The commission’s CEO, Christine Morgan, said concern for young people, trauma, alcohol and drugs, housing and access to services were common topics in meetings across Australia.

In Geraldton, and other regional towns, additional issues have also been noticed.

“With additional challenges for services, there’s a more of a need to rely on telehealth, so there’s more of a sense of disconnection.” Ms Morgan said.

“I also think there is possibly more acute sense of stigma in our remote, regional areas, probably because people know each other a bit better.”

The commission said these conversations will help shape advice for government policy.

“One of the things that is a real positive that we can draw from this is that people have a real desire to strengthen their connections with each other, and we know that social connection is an incredibly important factor for mental wellbeing,” Ms Morgan said.

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