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Vinnies concerned about mentally ill being sent to jail

Sr Myree Harris, president of the NSW St Vincent de Paul advisory committee for the care of people with mental illness, told a Sate Government inquiry that "experts from all government departments and from non-government agencies working together" were needed to improve the lives of those with mental health problems.

People with mental illness needed "integration back into the community as a fully functioning person. It is a holistic thing", she said.

The head of a State parliamentary inquiry into mental health services, Dr Brian Pezzutti (Liberal MLC), has said that people with mental illness are still locked up in jail in New South Wales.

"NSW is the only mainland State to incarcerate forensic patients and, as far as I can determine, only one of a few in the Western World," he said. "One third of the people in NSW prisons have a mental illness but they are locked up in their cells for 11 hours a day, dressed in prison clothes and fed prison food."

The inquiry committee has adopted a recommendation from the St Vincent de Paul Society that an office of mental health be set up in the Premier's Department to co-ordinate services to the mentally ill.

Dr Pezzutti described Sr Myree (pictured) as "a tireless advocate for improved services and conditions of mental health services" and said that, after considering the evidence before it, the committee agreed with her recommendation.

However, the Government members on the committee disagreed, arguing that services should be co-ordinated through the Health Department.

Sr Myree and Colin Robinson, a research officer with St Vincents, told the committee that people doubly disabled in that way tended to "fall through the cracks".

"They are often shuffled back and forth between services which take responsibility for treatment of only half the condition," Mr Robinson said.

Health services refused to take responsibility for the drug and alcohol problems - and the drug and alcohol services refused to treat the mental health problem. The result was that the person got no assistance at all.

"The St Vincents membership and conferences were reporting the deteriorating situation where people with mental illness were not getting any treatment," he said."This was clearly evident in the homeless people's hostels that we run, and the many people we visited who were isolated, lonely and depressed.

Catholic Weekly

NSW select committee on mental health services | Interim Report (PDF)
NSW fares worst in mental health care (AAP)
Priest says jail being used for wrong purpose (11/4/02)
Call for funds to save those 'left behind' (Catholic Weekly 28/10/01)
Battle to help 'dual diagnosis' victims (25/8/02)
St Vincent de Paul Society

19 Feb 2003