Former Australian of the Year and mental health advocate Professor Patrick McGorry has called for further investment in youth mental health facilities in the Northern Territory.
Professor McGorry’s comments come after an Aboriginal boy was detained in an adult inpatient ward for mentally ill people at Royal Darwin Hospital, three weeks after the Territory’s first juvenile mental inpatient facility was opened.
“If it’s still happening that young people at whatever level of disturbance are treated in purely adult facilities, then there is clearly a need for further investment and construction of new facilities,” Prof McGorry said.
“There is no doubt about that.”
Minister for Children and Families John Elferink said the boy was put in the adult ward because at the time of his admission, all the beds in the youth facility were “allocated”.
“A decision was then made with the best interest of the child in mind to place the youth in a secure section of the facility,” he said.
The youth facility is beside the adult unit and has five beds, each in separate bedrooms.
Professor McGorry, the executive director of Orygen, said it was hard to say what an appropriate size would be for a NT youth mental health facility.
“If the ward is already overflowing then clearly there is a need for more beds,” he said.
“I think … other facilities too, like home-based treatment, intensive case management and a whole raft of other services, [would] help you get by with fewer beds.”
Professor McGorry attended the opening of the youth ward in Darwin at the start of February and acknowledged the new facility was appropriate for “sub-acute”, but not extremely serious youth patients.
“I think that’s what the staff themselves would acknowledge: that they are covering one part of the spectrum of care and there are definitely some other parts that need to be covered into the future,” he said.
“I did congratulate the Northern Territory Government for taking this initiative with this new unit, but I did encourage them to continue to build a youth mental health facility in the Northern Territory which is comprehensive.”
This article first appeared on ‘ABC’ on 29 February 2016.