Aussie breaks down over 'pivotal' moment in wake of Bondi stabbing

A woman has shared her heartbreaking personal experience as experts warn of a mental health support system that is 'broken all around Australia'.

In the wake of the horrific Bondi stabbing murders the thoughts of authorities and civilians alike have now turned to try to understand how something so unimaginably brutal could happen, with one Aussie saying it marks a "pivotal point" in the discussion surrounding the country's mental health support.

Like many across the country, Sarah McDougal has shared she "cannot stop thinking" about what happened in Bondi on Saturday afternoon when Joel Cauchi murdered six people and injured many more at Westfield Bondi Junction.

Queensland Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Roger Lowe revealed Joel Cauchi, 40, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 17, and his father Andrew Cauchi said on Monday that Cauchi had "let himself down" after deciding to come off his medication because he was feeling better.

Police continue to investigate the motive behind the attack, but stories of an "inadequate" system failing those with mental illnesses are emerging following the revelation, with McDougal tearfully sharing her experience living with a person experiencing the illness — saying more needs to be done.

Images of Sarah McDougal. Left in a kitchen, and right at an event at a park.
Sarah McDougal (pictured) says that now marks a "pivotal point" in the discussion surrounding the country's mental health support. Source: TikTok/Instagram

"I really hope that this [can mean] an open discussion about mental health and the way that [people with schizophrenia] are treated in the public health sector," she said.

A broken system one Aussie experienced first-hand

After seeing talk of Cauchi's illness, McDougal shared what it is like for people with complex mental health illnesses hoping to seek help through the public health sector.

"I don't normally talk about anything like this, but I was raised in a household with a [person with schizophrenia] with a lot of drug and alcohol issues," she said.

McDougal says she grew up seeing her close family member go through the public mental health system. She alleges he would try to admit himself to the hospital, telling staff he was "hearing voices" and wanting to hurt himself.

"He was interested in knives and axes and all that kind of stuff, which unfortunately led to abusing his family members later down the line," McDougal went on to say. "And every single time the hospital sent him Valium and sent him home."

It took her family member eight years of "violence" to get the long-term medication he needed. "This isn't the hospital's fault at all... I just can't help but think that imagine if, over the weekend, that was my family member that did that."

Urgent calls for better mental health funding

McDougal is not alone though, psychiatrist and Executive Director of Orygen Youth Mental Health, Patrick McGorry, said on ABC Breakfast on Tuesday the system is "failing a large number of people" due to a lack of funding.

"The problem is these illnesses are so treatable. I spent my whole career in schizophrenia and psychosis and that's my line of work. We can treat these illnesses and give people productive fulfilling lives but it's not funded," he said.

"It's broken all around Australia. The public mental health system is broken and it cannot provide safe care to large numbers of people. And these tragedies are one of the results of that."

On March 11, a campaign to 'Fully Fund Mental Health in NSW' was launched by leading mental health organisations, calling on the government to "urgently reform and invest" in the state's mental health system.

As part of the campaign, Black Dog Institute shared that NSW has invested the "least per capita on mental health services, over the past three years, compared to all states and territories in Australia".

Rates of psychological distress in NSW have almost "doubled over the last decade" while, at the same time, mental health funding has "flatlined".

Images of Joel Cauchi. Left is him at the beach with a surfboard. Right is a selfie.
Police are still investigating the motive behind Joel Cauchi's (pictured) attack. Source: NCA Newswire

Priscilla Brice, CEO of BEING — Mental Health Consumers, said "people’s lives are at risk".

"People who desperately need help are being put on prohibitively long waitlists or simply being turned away by services, due to the lack of government investment," she said.

"The fact is, the NSW mental health system is critically underfunded and on the brink of collapse. Across the state, we are seeing mental health services stretched to their limits, the mental health workforce is burnt out and people who need help are falling through the cracks," Professor Samuel Harvey, Executive Director and Chief Scientist at Black Dog Institute, added.

Important statistics about mental illness in Australia

  • Only 4% of violence is associated with severe mental illness.

  • Many violent people have no history of mental disorder and most people with mental illness (90%) have no history of violence.

  • Mental health now represents 15% of the total burden of disease in NSW but only receives 5% of overall healthcare funding.

  • One in five Australian adults experience a mental illness in any 12 months, and approximately 45% of Australians may experience mental illness at some point in their lives.

  • Around 3% of Australians are affected by psychotic illnesses, such as schizophrenia.

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