MENTAL health leaders say the Border desperately needs a centre for young people in crisis and at risk of suicide.
Albury-Wodonga missed out yesterday when the federal government announced 15 headspace centres to support young people dealing with depression, substance abuse and other mental health issues.
Local mental health service managers Lisa Gundish and Greg Calder said that neither Albury’s Nolan House nor Wangaratta’s Kerferd Unit was designed to meet the needs of adolescents.
Staff there were trained and skilled for adults instead of teens.
The nearest centre for young people is Melbourne, more than 300 kilometres from their network of family and friends.
Mental Health Minister Mark Butler announced the latest 15 headspace centres, listing four in Sydney, three in Melbourne, one in Lismore, four in Queensland and others in South and Western Australia.
The Border Mail yesterday asked Mr Butler a series of questions about Albury-Wodonga’s failure to secure a headspace centre.
He didn’t answer.
Federal MPs Sussan Ley and Sophie Mirabella said the omission of Albury-Wodonga showed why The Border Mail community campaign to obtain a headspace clinic must continue.
Meanwhile, mental health managers say some youngsters in need are still taken to police cells awaiting transport to a suitable acute care centre.
And long-awaited modifications to the Wodonga emergency department to improve assessment facilities and safety won’t begin until early next year.
Ms Gundish, who manages the North East Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, said that if a young person up to the age of 17 needed an inpatient bed they had to go to Melbourne.
“That’s a big problem,” she said.
“And as part of the Victoria-NSW government agreement it is the same for Albury — they can access the nearest available bed and clearly Melbourne is closer than Sydney.”
Ms Gundish said this made incredible demands on family and friends and distances the young person from the usual support network.
“Many people we see are in a crisis,” she said.
“Maybe (they are) at the stage of suicidal thinking or having made an attempt.
“As is the nature of adolescents, things can peak and with the right support around can become more manageable.
“But in the crisis time they need a facility that can contain them and help them feel safe.”
Victoria has only four specifically designed acute psychiatric mental health youth centres — all in Melbourne.
Nolan House, run by Murrumbidgee Health, is a 24-bed acute psychiatric mental health centre at Albury Hospital and the Kerferd Unit at Wangaratta is a 20-bed acute psychiatric mental health centre.
Both are designed for adults but are often required to take young people in crisis when all other options have been exhausted.
Earlier this week Wayne Koehler, whose daughter, Aimee Lea, lost her battle with depression earlier this year, said Nolan House was no place for young people.
He said her stay there had scarred his daughter, family and friends.
Ms Gundish said both units were a last resort for adolescents.
“At both they can be with people significantly older, so there is a huge age difference,” she said.
“Young girls in particular are quite vulnerable if there are people who are actively psychotic, and there are others who are unwell and with challenging behaviour.
“Neither have adolescent programs and they are staffed by people who are more skilled in adult mental health rather than younger people.”
Mr Calder, the adult mental health program manger for Albury-Wodonga Health, agrees that Nolan House and the Kerferd Unit are inappropriate for young people.
“The design of the unit is inadequate for the range of people, but for young people in particular there is little privacy and no discrete areas where you could hive off a couple of rooms for young people,” he said
“There is no doubt we have the critical mass to demand a centre if not on the Border, at least somewhere in the North East.”