Mental Health Act madness: 4700 cases dismissed this year
MAGISTRATES are dismissing a soaring number of criminal charges under the same mental health law which resulted in a Western Sydney woman being free to allegedly behead her mother.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal an 18 per cent increase in charges dealt with under section 32 of the Mental Health Act in the two years to March.
The act has come under scrutiny after revelations Jessica Camilleri was charged and released four times under section 32 before she allegedly beheaded her mother Rita Camilleri on Saturday night.
The fresh data shows a steady increase in charges dismissed under section 32, from 4034 in the year to March 2017, to 4585 in 2018 and 4765 in 2019.
And the vast majority of those granted a section 32 were sent to live with a loved one. In the two years to November 2018, 85 per cent were "discharged into care of a responsible person".
There were 676 sent for further help and assessment and 410 discharged unconditionally.
Last night the office of Attorney-General Mark Speakman told The Daily Telegraph it was reviewing what orders were made by magistrates under section 32.
"The diversion provisions (including s32) are presently being reviewed by the Department of Communities and Justice as part of the re-make of the Act," a spokesman said.
He also said less than 2 per cent of all cases were dealt with under section 32, which was not an option for those facing serious charges in the District or Supreme Courts.
A friend of Rita Camilleri said she had her daughter discharged from Nepean Hospital last year. "She told the case worker 'I'll take care of her', and took her home in a red car," said the friend, who asked not to be named.
Leading psychiatrist at Sydney University's brain and mind centre, Professor Ian Hickie, called for an urgent review of the support available for mental health carers.
"It's very rare and bizarre that someone who is mentally ill becomes violent, it throws into question the effectiveness of the mental health system and whether this tragedy could have been avoided," Prof Hickie said.
"The family can negotiate their discharge from a mental health unit if there is no risk to themselves or the general public, but that can backfire. They also need support themselves, as they are not always equipped to deal with mental illness."
Clinical psychologist at University of Sydney Adam Guastella said the "piecemeal" support by police, ambulance and mental health services meant sufferers and their families had to navigate the complicated healthcare system.
"Getting someone in acute need of care involuntarily admitted into mental health care is down to a clinical educated guess and this can sometimes be wrong," Prof Guastella said.
"There is no one co-ordinating body to link all the services, so it often falls on families to carry this responsibility, and it can be a very complicated.
"It's easy to say we need more money for more beds in mental health units, we do, but there needs to be more management of the support systems.
"When they are released back into the community again, it's down to clinical judgment and we can get this wrong.
"Who checks whether the patient reports back to the unit for check-ups or if community health workers visit the patient at home is again haphazard and often falls on the family. Police, ambulance staff and mental health workers all work their butts off but often there is a breakdown in communication and the family's needs don't get met."
Opposition health spokesman Ryan Park also called for an urgent review.
"These figures highlight the need for more support and supervision for people who have been released under this provision," Mr Park said.