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FPDN CEO Statement: Mental Health and Police Forum 2024

By June 20, 2024No Comments


Firstly, I apologise for not being present today at the Forum, but I have come down with the flu. I would like to acknowledge country and also acknowledge family members and advocates and activists who continue to speak up about this critical issue.

The First Peoples Disability Network is the national representative organisation for First Nations people with disability and their families.  We are a unique organisation in that we are owned and operated by First Nations people with disability. As part of our work, we travel throughout NSW meeting with mob with disability to see if we can offer any individual advocacy support.

One of the most urgent social justice issues we encounter and have for the past 20 years relates to the serious lack or often complete lack of mental health supports or services for mob with disability, particularly in regional and remote parts of the state. This is not to say this is not an issue in Sydney or Newcastle or Wollongong however.

At the First Peoples Disability Network we have often said that when a person experiences an episode they need to make sure they have hit on the third  Tuesday of every fourth month when the mental health team is in town or they will end up in the back of a police paddy wagon. This is not said flippantly, this is the reality, in that there simply does not exist any meaningful outreach crisis type mental health supports. So the result is that police end up being the unintended mental health crisis supports.  Add to this that police are not trained mental health professionals this is akin to asking a dentist to be an IT consultant in our view.

Over the past 10 or more years we have seen an increasing criminalisation of disability,  this is resulting in prisons across the state and the country for that matter, all having very high proportions of prisoners with disability, be it cognitive impairment, acquired brain injury, Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, dual diagnosis and/or psychosocial disability.

So what are we to do.  FPDN has long called for the co-location of disability advocates with the ALS.  This is so a specialised focus upon disability can occur alongside the intensive work that ALS lawyers need to do.  We can look to critical services like the Intellectual Disability Rights Service Justice Advocacy Service that provides support persons for people with intellectual or other cognitive disability who are involved with the criminal justice system as victims, accused/defenders or witnesses. They provide support to people in court or at the police station.  Cleary this type of service needs to extend to people with psychosocial disability.

However, the most critical change needs to occur at the point of interaction between policy and the person with psychosocial disability, police fulfilling this role is no longer tenable nor appropriate from a disability perspective.  Clearly there needs to be greater investment or actually the development of a concerted outreach model of supports for people with psychosocial disability in crisis. It must be outreached focused in our view. We can look to the UK for ways of doing this. In our view at FPDN there is no other way.