Archive for July, 2011

A “gross inadequacy” in SA’s health system

Woman who killed son and tried to kill his brother found mentally ill    Court Reporter Hannah Silverman   19 July 2011

A “GROSS inadequacy” in SA’s health system failed the families of three women who killed family members because of mental incompetence, experts say.

A Kensington Gardens mother yesterday became the third woman in the past month to be found not guilty of killing a family member due to mental incompetence.

Two weeks ago, schizophrenic Vicky Lee Wagner began life detention for fatally attacking her mother, Joyce Brown, with a knife. Last month, Beverley Eitzen was spared a murder conviction after stabbing her son during a “major depressive episode”.

Law Society SA president Ralph Bonig said more needed to be done to prevent similar cases presenting before the courts.

“What these cases highlight is the gross inadequacy in the treatment and supervision of our mental health patients,” he said. “Why did they commit these crimes? Is it because they were not receiving adequate treatment or that there were no inpatient facilities available where they could have been adequately housed?”

The Kensington Gardens mother, who cannot be named, pleaded guilty to murdering her son, four, and trying to kill his brother, nine, in a murder-suicide attempt in August 2009.

Yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Margaret Nyland said the woman was not sane when she drugged herself and her two children. “These acts were not committed out of any animosity towards her children … (she) actually wanted to kill herself,” she said.

Under state law, persons found not guilty of a crime by reason of mental incompetence receive a limiting term – a period under mental health supervision equal to the sentence that a healthy person would receive.

Mr Bonig said the three cases should act as a reminder of the need for preventive mental health measures.

“The sad story behind this is we’ve had three within six weeks, which raises real significant concerns about the identification and treatment of mental health patients,” he said.

Mr Bonig said that, through the Coroner’s Court, the state had heard repeated calls for improvement in the mental health system “with what appears to be no substantive response”.

“With the substantial amount of money … allocated to mental health, it is now time for us to see this applied in a manner that reduces the potential for these sad and unfortunate outcomes,” he said.

Australian Medical Association SA former president Peter Ford said all mental health services were under pressure. “The AMA does have concern that access to acute mental health beds is always under pressure and we have concerns about that capacity, certainly in (secure mental health facility) James Nash House, for example,” he said.

“We’re pleased that there has been a Budget provision for increasing the number of the beds from 40 to 60 in James Nash House. That’s been a long-standing requirement that has not been fulfilled. All people who have contact with the mental health sector find it’s under pressure.”

SA Health acting executive director of operations Derek Wright said mental health services could only assess and treat those individuals identified as needing the services.

“It must be remembered that 20 per cent of the population in any year are identified as having mental health issues, most of which can be treated in primary care,” he said.

“These are tragic cases and the Government is committed to the mental health reform agenda.”

He said the mental health system was in the middle of a major reform following the review by the Social Inclusion Unit.

UniSA chair of mental health nursing Professor Nicholas Procter said generally people with a mental illness who committed a crime were rare. “They’re more likely to be a victim of a crime than the perpetrator,” he said.

“Some speculation is that those victims of crime are victims because of their own vulnerability.

“(These three cases) might be a statistical phenomena where three things happen close together but it should be seen as something that we should all take notice of.”

Prof Procter said de-stigmatising mental health and early prevention was needed to avoid significant mental health issues.


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