Email Sucked into a mental health system black hole — the dark reality of abuse, addiction, recovery By Jean Edwards
Updated March 10, 2019 08:18:06
Photo: Josie feels like her daughter has fallen into a mental health system black hole. (ABC News: Jean Edwards) Related Story: 20yo man arrested over 'horrific' killing of Aiia Maasarwe near tram stop Map: VIC
When Aiia Maasarwe's lifeless body was found in scrub near a Bundoora tram stop, Josie's daughter had been missing for days.
Had her youngest child not called home at dawn that morning, the Melbourne mother would have mistakenly rushed to claim the dead young woman as her own.
While other parents rejoice in the new era of early adulthood, Josie lives in constant fear someone will kill her mentally ill, drug-addicted daughter.
A bad trip on DMT at a Bacchus Marsh bush doof sent her spiralling into psychosis at the age of 18, with a dream-like conviction she would only wake from her "coma" in death.
Suicide attempts, spells in psychiatric wards and electric shock therapy followed — now she is hostage to an ice habit, dying for a smoke.
In the battle to simultaneously treat her 24-year-old daughter's illness and addiction, Josie feels like she has fallen into a mental health system "black hole".
She longs for some kind of cosmic coincidence so her daughter gets off the streets and past the "glorified holding pen" of hospital admissions.
"It's like a solar eclipse," she says.
"I have to make sure that the moon and the sun and the stars all align, so that when a bed is available my daughter is willing and able to go."
Photo: Josie is desperate to keep her daughter "safe in a storm". (ABC News: Jean Edwards)
The Victorian Government plans to double the number of public drug residential rehabilitation beds from 208 in 2015 to 492, but desperate parents are still turning to costly private clinics, in a bid to save their children from a life of drug abuse and crime.
In Josie's case, an $8,000 trip to a dual diagnosis clinic in Thailand came to an abrupt end when an ice dealer slipped in.
Her daughter disappeared, but after frantic calls to embassy staff she was finally coaxed onto a plane home.
Stuck in a revolving hospital door
When her daughter's boyfriend was jailed for a three-day road-rage rampage last year, Josie felt a pang of jealousy.
"I was jealous that he was going to get clean and my daughter is still a drug addict," she says.
In Victoria, the experts appointed to run the state's Mental Health Royal Commission are being urged address the largely split systems of drug and mental health services and find better ways to coordinate care.
For Josie, her daughter's psychosis and substance abuse are inextricably linked, but sobriety setbacks and hospital staff stir feelings of stigma and shame.
Discharged in a medicated daze with directions from hospital to homeless shelters, the temptation to skip the whole rigamarole and call a dealer is hard to resist.
"I'm told there are genuinely mentally ill people who need a bed, but your daughter is a drug addict so she can't stay," Josie says.
"I just want my daughter to have a chance. In the meantime, all we're doing is putting together broken pieces."
Josie is calling for court-enforced inpatient drug rehab to break the vicious cycle of benders, broken promises and psych wards.
Photo: Josie and her daughter in happier times. (ABC News: Jean Edwards)
As a last resort, she hopes to enact seldom-used legislation compelling people whose lives are in danger as a result of severe substance dependence to have compulsory treatment.
A review found just 23 people were detained and treated under the Severe Substance Dependence Treatment Act in the four years to 2015.
For now her daughter is stuck in a revolving door, roaming Melbourne's streets until someone comes to the rescue.
"I've walked into heroin dens to pick her up. We've been in the hands of drug lords, it's a whole world of ugliness. I just want to keep her safe while she's in a storm," Josie says.
"What kind of life would I have knowing that while I'm sitting here in my pretty home my daughter is on the streets?
"I feel like she's prey out there. I wait for the knock on the door."
Suffering, self-help and survival
Photo: Elizabeth is celebrating three years clean and sober after surviving horrific sexual and substance abuse. (ABC News: Jean Edwards)
Elizabeth's schoolmates nicknamed her "Smiley" because of her bubbly personality.
But a determination to grin and bear it and a full face of make-up masked the pain she endured during a decade of horrific sexual abuse at the hands of her father.
Elizabeth ran away from home at the age of 17, finding short-lived salvation at school by winning a university scholarship as she couch-surfed her way around town.
"It wasn't until after school when the bell rang that I remembered I had nowhere to go," she says.
Bingeing on booze and passing out at house parties helped numb the pain, or dark nights asleep in a train station toilet-turned-safe-haven.
While homework once meant spelling and sums, Elizabeth spent countless after-school hours with police preparing to prosecute, culminating in a gruelling court case that took the ultimate toll.
Straight after her father was sentenced to 18 years jail in 2009, Elizabeth drank, dosed up on Xanax and threw herself in front of a car on the Nepean Highway, in one of more than a dozen suicide attempts that left her hospitalised.
Photo: Elizabeth has a new sense of self-worth and a yearning to fix mental health system failures. (ABC News: Jean Edwards)
"Eventually I would have succeeded, but then I found drugs, harder drugs," she says.
A puff of crystal and a propensity to gravitate towards down-and-outs left Elizabeth in the grip of a crippling ice addiction akin to a backstabbing best friend.
Homeless and weighing just 45 kilograms, she sought refuge in a recycling bin she accidentally set alight.
The next morning, burnt and on the brink, Elizabeth sought help.
A stint in drug detox and an agonising month in self-imposed isolation from other ice-addled public housing tenants held the key to a sober living house.
"They were the hardest 30 days of my life. I just sat in pain, in immense mental pain," she says.
"It's like my cup was full, completely full, and one little extra drop of stress in that cup would make it overflow. I just couldn't cope."
'A drain on the system'
Elizabeth's story of suffering and survival has given rise to a new sense of self-worth, and a yearning to fix Victoria's mental health system failures.
Repeatedly sent away from hospital emergency departments at crisis point, she felt judged at every turn.
Photo: Elizabeth is calling for an end to ghetto-style public housing for recovering drug addicts. (ABC News: Jean Edwards)
"I felt like I was a drain on the system and they didn't have the time, the skills or the funds to deal with me," Elizabeth says.
"The whole system is geared against helping people recover. It's just band-aid solutions, which is what drugs are anyway. It's no wonder people just use drugs."
She wants an end to ghetto-style public housing that triggered a fight or flight response, torpedoing any chance of recovery.
Like a soldier returning from war, Elizabeth is still on guard, living with the flashbacks and nightmares of post-traumatic stress disorder.
But this week she celebrates three years clean and sober.
"The opposite of addiction is connection. I'm a different person now. I can face the wreckage of my past and put it behind me," Elizabeth says.
*Josie and Elizabeth's surnames have been withheld for privacy reasons
Topics: drugs-and-substance-abuse, community-and-society, addictive, drug-use, health, vic
First posted March 10, 2019 08:13:12
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