How failed system led to dad's deadly attack on son
A father with schizophrenia who killed his five-year-old son sought serious psychiatric care for weeks but was repeatedly dismissed by numerous health care workers, a new investigation has revealed.
The case has grieving family members asking if "prisons are the new asylums", as they claim some people with a mental illness are falling through the cracks and becoming the perpetrators of violent crimes.
The report, from ABC's Four Corners, looked at the current mental health care model in Australia since the removal of asylums in the 1990s.
One man, who the investigation called Michael*, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s.
Michael had a son with his partner Anne* in 2012, and he was doing well, he had a job and was on medication. However, after a series of failures in his treatment, Michael killed his five-year-old son in 2018.
Before this, when Michael needed help coping, he'd receive treatment at a hospital, where health professionals would adjust his medication and discharge him when he'd recovered.
His partner knew he had schizophrenia and Michael lived a fairly normal life.
"He was very good, he loved his son. He took him everywhere. He used to pick him up and put him over his shoulder. He was so proud, he was a father," his mother said.
When his son started school in 2018, Michael became unwell and he was sent to Hornsby Hospital, in Sydney, to have his medication reviewed.
However, during his hospital stay, Michael's doctors made mistakes in his treatment - presuming he'd stopped taking it - which they believe had triggered a psychosis.
However, according to the report, his doctors erred and prescribed Michael a lower dosage of antipsychotic medication than he'd previously been prescribed.
Michael's condition improved while in hospital, however once he was discharged, his condition worsened, and as he sought help over the following weeks, health care providers failed him.
His family described his behaviour as "confusing" and said he began talking about "the devil" and "god".
He didn't improve, despite continuing to take the medication he was given in hospital.
In the week following his discharge from hospital, Michael connected with his local healthcare provider numerous times, however when he reported feeling unwell, they again assumed he wasn't taking his medication and prescribed the same dosage again.
Michael wasn't seen by a psychiatrist during this period because the health district he lived in was under-resourced, the report claimed.
This story is so confronting but so important. Powerful reporting by @elisereports. So much tragedy, so much pain, a wonderful little boy killed by his father. Yet so few resources. No beds for patients desperately needing them. Surely as a country we can do better than this. https://t.co/KWmahrYWWU— John Lyons (@TheLyonsDen) August 24, 2020
For the following weeks Michael's condition worsened, before he attempted to admit himself back to hospital.
"I said to (the nurse), 'he's just come out of the hospital and he's having thoughts that his son is the devil'," his mother said.
"I pleaded with her, I've never pleaded so much in my life," she said.
He was told the wait time could be up to 24 hours, due to a "bed block".
Michael tried again to be admitted to hospital the following day, however the mental health worker was, according to the report, distracted due to competing demands.
The next day Michael killed his son.
Michael's mother said she believes the killing could have been avoided if Michael got the help he was seeking.
"He would have got the help he needed. He would have had his medication sorted out. He would have been fine."
Michael was found not guilty of the killing due to his mental illness.
For everyone watching this profound @4corners tonight: consider the detailed research, the gentle and empathetic conversations, the careful interviews and camerawork, the intricate scripting and editing. So important to our understanding of complex issues. @abcnews https://t.co/hpIcVJVoNF— Gaven Morris (@gavmorris) August 24, 2020
Statistics show that people with a mental illness are far more likely to be the victim of crime than to perpetuate violence against another person.
However, people with a mental illness can become involved in violence.
Data from the Australian Institute of Criminology data found that "around one in ten homicides in the past decade" were committed by a person with some from of mental illness.
In the early 1990s an investigation into the human rights of people with a mental illness recommended the removal of asylums and for disabled people to be integrated into the community.
Over a number of years asylums around Australia were closed down and the states and territories made commitments that the money previously spent on these facilities would be funnelled into other forms of care.
However, a number of mental health care advocates now say people with a mental illness are being failed across the country.
Of particular concern are individuals with high risk mental illnesses, according to the report, who have become unable to access the help they need.
*Names have been changed throughout this article
Originally published as Dad sought help before killing son