De-hospitalising psychiatric patients needs rethink: psychiatrist


Australia needs to rethink its policy on dealing with mental illness and introduce more psychiatric hospital beds, Monash University Professor of Psychiatry David Copolov will tell a symposium today, Tuesday 11 October.

Speaking at the Advances in Mental Health Research symposium at Monash during Mental Health Week, Professor Copolov said there had been many good reasons, including humanitarian reasons, for the reduction of psychiatric hospital beds when Australia and other developed countries started the de-hospitalisation of people with mental illnesses in the 1960s.

However, it was time for Australia to rethink this policy, he said.

In the mid-1960s Australia had 30,000 psychiatric hospital beds This number dropped to just under 6000 by 2002 as state and territory governments tried to reduce the stigma of mental illness by increasing the availability of community care and integrating psychiatric beds into general hospitals.

But Professor Copolov said evidence now suggested the culling of psychiatric beds had gone too far.

"This evidence includes bed occupancy rates close to 100 per cent with the added difficulty of not admitting patients unless they are a danger to themselves or others and the very high rates of psychiatric illness among the homeless and prisoners," he said.

"This, and the substantial increase in the number of people being imprisoned, a 50 per cent increase since 1985, or becoming homeless attest to the fact that the policy of radical de-hospitalisation in the public psychiatric sector needs to be seriously revised."

Professor Copolov said there were examples of specialist hospitals in other areas of healthcare, which provided high standards of care, teaching and research that should be used as models for mental health care.

"Modern specialist public sector psychiatric hospitals should be built next to general hospitals in order to deal with the current major psychiatric bed shortages to ensure there is a critical mass of clinicians and researchers and to address the general medical needs of psychiatric patients," he said.

The Advances in Mental Health Research symposium will be held at 5.15 today, Tuesday, 11 October in South One lecture theatre, Clayton campus, Monash University.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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