July 3rd, 2009
MENTALLY ill people facing criminal charges are living in the community because there are not enough high-security mental health beds to care for them, health experts warn.
The Gold Coast has no dedicated facility for treating mentally ill people going through the courts despite calls for more than 10 years for a ‘forensic’ mental health unit.
There are 46 forensic patients on the Coast — patients who have been ordered by the Mental Health Court to undergo treatment.
Gold Coast Medical Association president Dr Philip Morris, a practising psychiatrist, said the Gold Coast had been waiting since 1997 for a forensic mental
He said the city needed at least 25 forensic beds and there was a desperate need for up to 100 hostel beds where others with mental illness could live with
24-hour access to nursing care.
Mr Morris said patients under court orders were living in the community, some with instructions to make regular contact with doctors.
These patients included those who had been deemed not guilty through a mental health defence; those being held until fit for trial and others who may never
be fit for trial.
“The majority of people with mental illness are not dangerous — they’re usually timid and withdrawn but there’s a small group who are potentially dangerous,”
said Dr Morris.
“They’re psychopaths or delusional, paranoid, often substance abusers taking speed and ice or marijuana, alcohol.
“And they’ve got criminal anti-social tendencies.
“That group can be dangerous and need forensic centres.”
Australian Psychological Society president Professor Bob Montgomery, a psychologist on the Gold Coast, said there were not enough forensic units to meet
the need. The only one for the southeast is in Wacol, Brisbane.
Prof Montgomery said forensic units were in such high demand that patients were churned through before they were fit for release.
As new patients were ‘shoved in the front door, others were shoved out the back door’ and left to their own devices in the community.
A spokeswoman for Queensland Health acknowledged there were ‘a number’ of forensic patients on the Coast being ‘managed’ in the community or through the
High-risk patients were transferred to Wacol where there were 61 beds.
She said the population of the Gold Coast did not qualify it for a forensic mental health unit, and would not until at least 2017.
“However, over the past two years there has been significant expansion of prison mental health services, court liaison services and district forensic liaison
officers across Queensland,” she said.
“This has included the Gold Coast District.”
Prof Montgomery said there should be greater emphasis on early intervention because it was possible to detect psychopathic tendencies as early as preschool.
People with serious mental illness could be coached into a new way of life if they received constant treatment and supervision.