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SA Health tight-lipped on mental health 'commitments'

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What commitments did the Chief Psychiatrist make to the Burke family? SA Health won’t confirm or deny.

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Carers Bob and Judy Burke say Chief Psychiatrist Aaron Groves made commitments to them to improve the treatment of borderline personality disorder sufferers in South Australia during a meeting yesterday.

Like other carers for people with BPD, the Burkes have endured great suffering attempting to get appropriate treatment for their daughter in the public and private health systems.

The pair runs a support group for parents of those with BPD, called Sanctuary.

Judy Burke told InDaily she and her husband Bob met with Groves yesterday.

She says he committed to implementing a new round of training next year – a program to be imported from the United Kingdom – to ensure South Australian emergency department staff treat BPD sufferers appropriately, and to improving the accessibility of public treatment options for BPD.

But SA Health refused to comment on the commitments.

A spokesperson for SA Health offered only broad statements in response to questions about the measures from InDaily.

“We always look at ways that our health staff can better engage with mental health consumers, including those living with Borderline Personality Disorder,” the spokesperson said in a statement this morning.

“We welcome opportunities to promote greater information sharing and involvement with families in the care of their loved ones, to improve mental health outcomes.

“A key priority of the newly established Mental Health Commission will be to engage directly with South Australians living with mental illness, to determine how we can better deliver the services they require.

“These conversations will lead the development of a five-year strategic mental health plan to improve mental health services across South Australia.”

Burke told InDaily training for emergency department staff was vital to counter discrimination carers say exists amongst staff in SA emergency departments against BPD sufferers.

“Things in EDs are still not right,” said Burke.

“(BPD) is still seen as behaving badly.”

Earlier this month, Adelaide psychiatrist Dr Martha Kent told InDaily inappropriate medical and mental health care for BPD sufferers stemmed from a belief – outdated since the 1990s – that the disorder was untreatable, and that sufferers were fundamentally “bad” in character.

“For a long time in the public health system, if someone was labelled with BPD, they were seen as untreatable and unlikable,” said Kent.

“Sufferers from this condition can be challenging, emotional, oppositional, aggressive (and) demanding, then for all of those reasons it’s developed a bad reputation in the mental health services and in psychiatry in general.”

In South Australia, the system linking sufferers (and their carers) to appropriate treatment is “piecemeal”, “uncoordinated” and “random”, said Kent.

“Unfortunately in this state there are a few patchy offerings of dialectic behavioural therapy (a cognitive psychological treatment) but there is no coordinated treatment approach for people with BPD,” she said.

“It is very much underfunded.

“The frustrating thing is that we know that if (patients) were offered a coordinated, tailored system of care, such as that offered in Victoria or New South Wales, they would do a whole lot better.

“We are having a great deal of difficulty persuading the decision-makers that this is a worthy cause.”

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