Mental health advocates say more borderline personality disorder sufferers may die for lack of appropriate treatment while the State Government delays the release and implementation of an action plan Mental Health Minister Leesa Vlahos received eight months ago.
In the past three years, members of carer support group Sanctuary have endured the loss of five loved ones – all young women – to suicide.
The group, founded by carers Judy and Bob Burke, currently has about 180 members.
As InDaily reported last year, treatment for borderline personality disorder (BPD) sufferers in South Australia is available, but extremely difficult to access – and carers say a stigma surrounding the condition among some health professionals has exacerbated trauma for affected families.
A project steering group led by Mental Health Commissioner Chris Burns developed an action plan, which recommended the Government establish a dedicated treatment “hub” for the disorder, modelled on the success of a similar facility in Victoria.
The plan was presented to Minister Vlahos in November last year, but has yet to be released publicly.
A spokesperson for SA Health said the department had been working with senior clinicians since the plan was received to “develop a considered response and implementation plan”.
But Judy Burke said she feared it would be “far too late” when the Government stops “dilly-dallying” for some sufferers and their families.
She said carers and sufferers could not wait any longer for the Government to act on the issue.
Burke told InDaily she was aware of a woman with BPD who had not been able to receive appropriate treatment, and had been hospitalised after attempting suicide on more than one occasion. Burke said the woman has a four-year-old son.
“It’s a disaster that (the action plan) is still sitting there,” Burke told InDaily this morning.
“People are dying, or certainly at risk of dying because they’re not getting the right treatment.”
Patron of the Australian BPD Foundation Janne McMahon OAM, who said she was on the steering committee, told InDaily that 11 sufferers of BPD had committed suicide in South Australia over the past three years, and long waiting lists were preventing at-risk people from getting treatment.
“We know of 11 suicides in the last three years [in SA] … there would be many more, I’m sure,” she said.
“We’re extremely disappointed and bewildered as what the hold-up is.
“People are dying.”
McMahon said families had been let down by the Government’s inaction.
“Why is it not being released? And, more importantly, why hasn’t it been implemented?
“What we’re interested in is the implementation of the actions within that plan.”
She said she applauded the Vlahos’s efforts to bring the issue into Burns’ remit, “but then question what’s been the delay, and why”.
Burns told InDaily this morning that: “In the earliest days of the commission, the Minister [Vlahos] asked me to explore and develop an action plan to assist people with a lived experience of borderline personality disorder”.
“The Minister and I meet regularly and often discuss borderline personality disorder.
“Minister Vlahos has repeatedly said she takes the issue of borderline personality disorder and the plan very seriously and is working hard with SA Health and organisations such as Sanctuary, to ensure its successful implementation.”
Dignity party MLC Kelly Vincent said: “People living with borderline personality disorder and their families … have been telling the government for years what they need”.
“[They] need a specialised borderline personality disorder unit, much like they have in Victoria.
“They need very intensive, very rarely-available support.”
She added: “It does have a very severe impact on families.”
Vlahos is currently on leave and unavailable for comment.
An SA Health spokesperson told InDaily the department was “developing a considered response to the Action Plan for People Living with borderline personality disorder, including how it will be implemented”.
“Further engagement with key stakeholders, including Sanctuary, will be an important part of this process prior to the Action Plan’s release.”
This piece was first seen on ‘INDaily’ 13 July 2017.