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Gold Coast Bulletin
03 Jun 08
The police shooting of a mentally ill man at Pacific Pines has distressed both the victim’s family and the police involved in the shooting and left the public disturbed about the death.
As the fifth fatal shooting involving a mentally ill person in southeast Queensland in the past four and a half years, the latest incident shows — like the other four deaths — that there has to be a better way of dealing with mental illness.
Public administration of mental illness has become an inexact science in the years since Queensland and other states closed down institutions for the mentally ill and put the onus of treatment on the shoulders of the community.
The man shot dead by police on Saturday night was not known to the Gold Coast Mental Health Unit, although he had been diagnosed by a GP for depression and had been on medication.
But, as in all the other cases that have arisen on the Gold Coast in recent years, including murders and assaults, the danger signals given out by the man who died obviously needed more attention.
Not enough emphasis is being put on the detection and care of the mentally ill or on the discipline of follow-up medication.
With mental illness on the rise, not only are there mis-diagnoses, there also are diagnosed people who stray off their medication and into trouble. As well, between a quarter and a half of all people in prison in Australian states have had psychiatric diagnoses before their imprisonment.
Yet Australia continues to have a cringe about mental illness. Scarce state mental institutions, poor diagnoses, feeble control of medications, lack of expert help in siege situations, a lack of full accountability for the sometimes lethal actions of mentally ill people (for example the Claude Gabriel case) and the hyper-sensitivity of bureaucrats to political incorrectness all are symptoms of the failure to face the problem.
This newspaper recently was accused by mental health experts of insensitivity for using the word ‘psycho’. We agree the term is blunt, but as film-maker Alfred Hitchcock might have attested, sometimes it is necessary to call a spade a spade.
If authorities were as determined to face mental health issues as they seem to be to promote euphemisms and to argue privacy issues, they might get somewhere.
Violent deaths of mentally deranged people in street confrontations show the authorities clearly don’t have all the answers.