Opinion Piece - Mental Health Needs Geraldton and the Mid-West

Darren West MLC

At a time when the pressures on families are high and services in regional communities are stretched, more than ever we need the facilities promised by the Liberal National Government here in Geraldton. In particular the dedicated acute mental health facility that was promised to enable people to be treated locally rather than have to transfer to Perth.

The effects of mental health are far reaching and is an Australia-wide problem that impacts on all of us.

As reported in a recent article1- delays, indecision and a lack of political will is part of the crisis Australia faces dealing with mental health. The article also lists 10 telling facts that were tabled to the Senate Select Health committee including:

  • Mental health is not a small problem - each year, it is estimated that more than 3.6 million people (aged 16 to 85 years) experience mental ill-health problems—representing about 20 per cent of adults.

Over a lifetime, nearly half of the Australian adult population will experience mental illness at some point—equating to nearly 7.3 million Australians aged 16 to 85. Less than half will access treatment.

  • Plenty of ‘reviews’, not a lot of action - “Despite four national plans and two national policies, one road map, two report cards and one action plan, genuine mental health reform seems as far away as ever,” Sebastian Rosenberg, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre told the committee.


  • So it’s time to act, not talk - National Mental Health Commissioner Professor Ian Hickie said, “we don’t need more reviews, we don’t need more consultation, we don’t need more discussion about discussion – we actually need the Prime Minister, the new Prime Minister, working in combination with the states, so that people get the services that they need no matter where they live.”

It is the ability to access local facilities that is at issue here. We need increased services to take the pressure from current providers and to enable people to be treated closer to their home.

Only recently this very news outlet was involved in a siege that took place in Geraldton – the lack of local support being one of the reasons cited.

The Ice Summit held in Geraldton in June enabled community members and service providers to relay how ice has impacted on people’s lives. What was made clear from their stories is that this is a complex problem that needs to be addressed at multiple levels. It is a social problem that impacts on community, legal, education and health systems.

When community services are lacking, the hospital system bears the brunt. Locally the emergency department is dealing with daily presentations from people with drug and alcohol related problems that consumes a disproportionate amount of services.

There were calls at the summit for local mental health services so that people can receive initial and ongoing treatment locally. And there have also been calls in the local media by the medical profession to establish a specialist mental unit in Geraldton as a matter of priority.

Back in August 30, 2013 the Minister for Mental Health told the community that Geraldton was her first priority for an acute mental health facility given that at that time, “the number of patients flown from Geraldton to Perth for treatment had increased by 80 per cent over the three years she had been Minister”. That commitment was reaffirmed in December 2013.

Then in March this year the Minister gave a watered down commitment that Geraldton would receive 21 hospital beds for mental health patients and 12 beds for alcohol and drug rehabilitation – subject to Cabinet approval.

Despite these commitments there is no funding in the 2015/16 Budget and it is doubtful that the community will ever see these vital services under the Liberal/Nationals’ watch.

But of course there are many contributing factors to mental health other than alcohol and drugs.

Earlier this year we saw the closure of the Mid-West Men’s Health following the withdrawal of State Government funding.

Men are traditionally not the best at accessing support services but Mid-West Men’s Health provided the help needed across the community. The location was also ideal and could be visited with a degree of anonymity.

We believe that the Government needs to fulfil its promise to the community, provide the funding and get on with it. The Mid-West can’t afford to wait any longer.

This needs to be made abundantly clear to the Premier and the Minister during their upcoming Cabinet meeting in Geraldton later this month. They should make good on their promises to the community to build a facility for acute and other mental health patients.

Our community deserves better than the hollow promises made so far. Trying to squeeze mental health services into the already under pressure health facilities will not do.

If this raises any issues for you or someone you know, call:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

Darren West MLC