HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [6.41 pm]: I rise to make some comments about the shocking turn of events that occurred over the weekend, which was a devastating start to Mental Health Week. That, of course, was the stabbing of the mental health social worker in Rockingham who has subsequently died. I do not intend to dwell on the circumstances around the incident. I understand it is now before the courts and will undoubtedly be subject to a coronial inquiry. I want to respond to some comments that were made by a number of people subsequent to the incident because I think it is important to get some clarification on the record for members. I begin by expressing my wholehearted support for the community-managed mental health sector, which is a wonderful part of our mental health sector and delivers important services for people in the community where they need them.

Some concerns that have been raised suggest that the move to extend community-managed mental health services within the overall continuum of services available within the mental health spectrum is, somehow, a step in the wrong direction. I emphatically reject that assertion! Our community-managed mental health sector is run by incredibly dedicated people and organisations and the need to extend the nature of the services that they provide is great. It has never been intended as a way to cheaply outsource mental health services. That is not the purpose. It is recognised that community-managed mental health services are able to provide services in the community in a very responsive, nimble and community-focused way. They are increasingly staffed by clinical mental health professionals and highly dedicated and qualified staff. To ensure that we are assisting people to live well within the community, we need more of these services and people who are able to deliver services directly to people’s homes.

It is not normal process, nor does it need to be, for people to go in pairs to see people who have mental health issues and, as such, it is not funded that way. Some unfortunate commentary suggested that people always needed to go in pairs and that, indeed, was the only appropriate model. The community-managed mental health services that I have had the pleasure of dealing with over many years have been very diligent about safety for their workers and ensuring that they take all necessary precautions. I take great umbrage at the underlying assumption that people who have mental health issues are inherently dangerous or inherently unpredictable. I am sorry, but I think that is a stigmatising and very dangerous falsehood! It is an extraordinarily unhelpful narrative to be spread. I suggest that it is exactly that sort of narrative that leads to entire communities making the mistaken assertion that it is dangerous to have, for example, step-up, step-down services. They are fantastic services, which, frankly, we need to have right around the state. It is precisely because people hold those incorrect and quite dangerous stigmatising views that, as people who care about people with mental health issues, members in this place are beholden to challenge those stigmatising falsehoods whenever we hear them. Most people in the community with mental health issues are just like you and me, but at a point in their life they experience anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or a whole range of other issues, and they simply need support. They often want a reconnection with community and are simply looking to lead the best lives that they can. I have no doubt that every single one of us in this place has experienced mental health issues themselves or had people close to them experience them, so they would recognise how absurd it is to suggest that any dealings with people in the community with mental health issues are inherently dangerous and problematic. I have been very disappointed that that was a knee-jerk reaction that came from some sectors within the community, but I recognise that some of that seems to have stopped. Nevertheless, representatives of the community-managed mental health sector have expressed their distress about what these sorts of incidents and the way that people respond to them will mean for the sector and the people they support. We need to be very mindful about the language we use and challenge those assertions when they are expressed because, frankly, they are out of line.

I express my heartfelt condolences to the family of Jacqueline Francis. I am sure that I am not the only person in this place who offers their deepest sympathies, particularly to her daughter, her family and her loved ones. I also offer my deepest sadness and sympathy to Jacqueline’s colleagues at Neami National, which is the organisation that she worked for. Neami is a very well regarded national mental health service and we are lucky to have its services in this state. At the moment, the staff at Neami are devastated and are acutely feeling the loss of one of their colleagues. Everyone is determined to ensure that those involved in trying to get to the bottom of what happened in this instance are given as much information as possible.

It was a very sad start to Mental Health Week in the state. I imagine it affected quite a few people who care very much about this week. I ask people to remember that our community-managed mental health sector is invaluable and does an extraordinary job, as do the workers in it. Please remember that people who are experiencing mental health distress are not inherently dangerous or unpredictable. It could be you or it could be me.


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