It was Bethany Ward’s fourth high school in as many years.
She was the kind of teenager who could adapt to any situation, but walking into art class at Essendon Keilor College, this time Bethany just didn’t have the energy.
“I saw a girl sitting there with her headphones in and she definitely didn’t look like someone who would talk to me – I thought, ‘I’ll just go sit next to her’,” she said.
“She took her earphones out and gave me some speech about society, women and beauty, and it was like a foreign language, she was just so smart.
“I was impressed by her, and I really enjoyed the fact that she was straight to the point.”
Bethany came to know well this intelligent young woman called Anna Horneshaw, who was withdrawn and sometimes contradicted social etiquette.
“I could tell she was insecure, she said to me one time ‘I wish I could be like you and everyone would speak to me, no one talks to me’,” she said.
“Yes she struggled socially, but she was always kind.”
When it came time for Bethany to move back to Albury-Wodonga – she and her twin sister were living in Melbourne after a break-down in their family – her friendship with Anna naturally waned.
They stayed in touch over social media, and when Bethany became pregnant with her first child, they talked about names.
Bethany assumed Anna was doing well – she wasn’t one to share much – so when Anna sent her a message late one night, it didn’t raise alarm.
“It was 3am on a weekday and all it said was ‘I love when pictures of your kids pop up on my news feed, it makes me smile’,” she said.
“All I wrote back was thanks, I know, they’re pretty cute – I didn’t even ask her how she was.
“I look at it now and think that was probably her trying to reach out.”
Less than six months later Anna Horneshaw stabbed her house mate to death.
At the time, on November 21, 2015, Anna was 27 years old and four months pregnant.
Last year she was sentenced to 17 years’ jail.
Bethany has come to learn from Anna’s sister, Katie, how Anna had been struggling with mental health issues and addiction.
Katie, in a piece for News Corp, described numerous attempts to get Anna help and wrote of one of Anna’s suicide attempts: We thought this would finally be it: she would be put in the psych ward. But Anna, always articulate even drunk or on ice, convinced the doctors she was okay. Mum’s desperate pleas were dismissed as an over-reaction, and Anna was sent home.
Bethany believes things would be different for Anna, who was too addicted for the psychiatric unit but too psychotic for a rehab facility, if she had received the right support at the beginning.
She can confidently say the mental health system “is broken”, because it’s not the first time a person in her life has been failed by it.
“The week before everything happened Anna walked into a petrol station completely naked, and the police picked her up, took her to a psychiatric ward, and she was discharged the next morning,” she said.
“The saddest part about Anna’s case is now she’s in prison, she is the most accepted she’s ever been, and getting the help she needs.
“I can’t relate in that my mum didn’t have an alcohol or drug addiction, but there wasn’t enough support services for either of them.”
“Broken people lost in a broken system”
Bethany’s mother was first admitted to hospital in 1998 for what would later be diagnosed as a form of bipolar – and was told back then she was “attention-seeking to escape her five children”.
“Mental health wasn’t understood like it is now, but you’ve still got broken people in a broken system and it’s not working,” Bethany said.
“A lot of the time we’re discharging sick people when they’re not ready.
“In 2012 my mum was taken to Kerferd (Inpatient Unit).
“When she was discharged I said ‘She’s not well enough, she has a 14-year-old son at home who needs her to be OK’, but she was sent home and less than 24 hours later she was admitted again.”
This pattern has repeated “usually every two years like clockwork”, involving numerous health services.
There have been options of seeing a case worker once a week, or a psychiatrist through the public system – but after a year-long wait.
“We say prevention is always better than a cure, but we’re not doing anything to prevent this,” Bethany said.
“We wait until they’re at breaking point, and then you don’t have the resources for them – I’ve been told Nolan House didn’t have enough beds for us.
“What would have happened if in the 90s, if mum had got the right support?”
Bethany thinks often about the people who don’t have loved ones to advocate for them, and she has a message for those of us who avoid these people on the street.
“Treat them like a person, speak to them – obviously there’s some situations where you can’t – but people need to be more compassionate towards those who are struggling with mental health,” she said.
“They’re told they are lazy, or they did it to themselves – but feeling your life isn’t worth anything is real for them.”
Her mum is the best she’s ever been, now that she is living in a residential facility where triggers of her anxiety – tasks like getting groceries – are lessened.
Bethany doesn’t have an answer to what would fix the system, but she thinks better wrap-around services following admittance would be a starting point.
She is holding a ‘mental health gala’ later this month, a fundraiser for Beyond Blue.
“There’s nothing I can do that can fix my mum’s or Anna’s situation, and yes I have my tears, but then I go ‘What can we do to make things different?’” she said.
Most importantly, the mum-of-three is seeking to educate the next generation, starting with her own family.
“I say to them, ‘We’re going to go see grandma, and she might say things that are funny and it’s just because her brain is working a little bit different’,” she said.
“Elia is like, ‘That’s OK mum, when grandma says things that are different I don’t laugh at her, because I don’t want her to feel sad’.
“I got her report from school the other day and it said ‘Elia is a kind, generous member of our class, and is able to sense when another is in need of assistance’.
“She often jumps up to help people who are are feeling sad.
“For me, I don’t want to hide this from my kids, this is real – this is happening.”
- The Mental Health Gala, a fundraiser for Beyond Blue, is being held at the Huon Hill hotel on Saturday, July 28. For tickets visit www.trybooking.com/WRDJ, or call Bethany on 0412168225.
If you or someone you know is in need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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