The Hon Emma McBride
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Dear Assistant Minister,
It is common knowledge that there is a substantial mental health problem, not just in Australia but throughout the developed world and that this problem is steadily getting worse.
People are running around suggesting all sorts of ad hoc solutions. These solutions inevitably call for the government to step in and spend significant amounts of money one way or another.
We disagree with this approach – pouring more money into an existing mess seems very likely to create an even bigger mess.
The complex problems of mental health have evolved over a long time. We believe there are no quick or easy solutions. There are however things that can and should be done that will improve the situation and start Australia heading in the right direction. One of these, which is long overdue, is the setting up of supervised community based Soteria houses as an alternative to institutional psychiatric wards for people with acute mental health problems.
Who are we
We are an independent, self funded, eclectic group of academics, psychologists, lawyers, therapists, teachers, artists, students and all sorts of other people. Many of us identify ourselves as mad while some others care for and support people struggling with mental health problems.
There are already a number of non government organisations claiming to represent the views and interests of people with significant mental health problems. We formed this group because a number of us felt we were not being heard or well represented. Some of these organisations also appear to be preoccupied with their own agendas.
Recently one of our members had an article published in an international online journal – Mad In America. The article was called It’s Time For Soteria – An Australian Perspective. This article is an integral part of this letter. A copy is attached.
In the short term Soteria Houses are not expected to cost the Australian government any significant additional money. In the long term they have the potential to save billions of dollars. How is this so?
Traditional institutional mental health practices are based on the belief that acute psychotic experiences are an incurable brain disease requiring strong lifelong medication and acceptance of a dysfunctional life of hopelessness and despair.
While the number of people affected is only about 2.5% of the 5 million Australians afflicted at any given time with mental health problems, this small percentage consume nearly half of the federal mental health budget ($11.6 billion 2020-21). Acute psychotic mental illness is therefore a very expensive business.
Even with the significantly reduced life expectancy that can be expected from this type of treatment, it still adds up to well over $1 million per person over the term of their shortened life span. That is without even taking into account the considerable human suffering and loss of potential.
Soteria houses work on an entirely different basis. Instead of seeing these acute mental health symptoms as an incurable life long disease, the Soteria model aims at full recovery with a normal productive, meaningful life.
We have no agenda to own or operate any Soteria style facilities. Our mandate is to promote the support and establishment of a true community style operation based on the existing proven model that has been operating successfully around the world for more than 50 years in countries like Israel, Italy, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Hungary and the United States.
We are however opposed to calling some lame appendage to an existing mental health institution, with limited vision and a biomedical agenda, a Soteria house. This project has to be done properly or not at all.
What we are asking for is a conversation with the Federal government with a view to establishing some trial Soteria houses in Australia.
We can bring a considerable amount of practical lived expertise to both this project and solutions to acute mental health issues in general. We would like to see Australia emerge as a country with one of the best mental health systems in the world. We believe it is eminently possible and can be accomplished over time without needing to spend substantial amounts of money.
Industrialist and Entrepreneur (Retired)
Personal lived experience with Schizophrenia
Father of a schizophrenic son
B.A. Sydney 1973 (Psychology Major)
Mad Lived Experience Support Worker
Mental Health Consumer