In Response to: “Mentally Ill Clogging up Emergency 111 Numbers” article Dominion Post, 21 January 2013.
Changing Minds was disappointed with the commentary and ill-informed views evident in Monday’s Dominion Post article, “Mentally Ill Clogging up Emergency 111 Numbers”.
The article raises a number of issues regarding the over-representation of those experiencing mental health issues or suicidality in emergency line calls. Unfortunately, the article lacks any context as to why these issues have arisen. Changing Minds believe that the victim blaming of “nuisance” callers inherent in the article invalidates the very real needs of those experiencing mental health issues and suicidality.
The stigma associated with mental distress, particularly when it comes to psychosis and suicide, can be a huge barrier for those in need of assistance. Reaching out while in distress is often extremely difficult due to societal perceptions and a lack of understanding from the public. This article does nothing to encourage people in distress to reach out, instead working to increase the stigma associated with mental health issues and a feeling that they are a burden on society.
Moreover, the “claiming to be suicidal” line in the article suggests that a person is not really suicidal unless they go through with it – a claim both dangerous and irresponsible, particularly in light of New Zealand’s relatively high suicide rates compared with other parts of the world. Those experiencing suicidality are in need of real help and Changing Minds would argue that this constitutes a “real emergency”.
The breeches of confidentiality evident in the article, along with the use of some of the most extreme examples only works to sensationalise, trivialise, and demonise individuals who need support. Taking the most extreme examples also works to feed into the dichotomy of deserving vs. un-derserving, or physical unwellness vs. mental unwellness.
Supporting Families in Mental Illness has also expressed concern as to the content of this article and the dangerousness of increasing the stigma associated with mental health issues. Often people who are supporting a suicidal friend/family member may not know who to contact and in cases of distress emergency services can be the first point of call.
The misunderstanding and misrepresentation evident in the article points to the need for more education around mental health in our communities, in particular for those working in emergency services. Moreover, it is evident that there is a need for an increase in resourcing in community services so that less of the problems people are experiencing get to the point of emergency. If we continue with an under-resourced support system that is often forced to provide an ambulance-at-the-bottom-of-the-cliff style of care then issues like those raised in the Dominion Post’s article will continue to arise.