MY DAUGHTER Anna is in prison. She belongs there. She killed an innocent person.
We will never leave it alone with the horrible fact that she has taken the life of a man. But my family and I have watched with amazement that something has happened for which we had lost hope.
In the Lady Phyllis Frost Center, Victoria's maximum safety prison for women, Anna has turned her life around.
In prison she finally gets the help we begged for so many years. It is just a tragedy that it took the death of a man to give her that help. She should have been helped many, many years before it came to this point.
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At the age of eight our beautiful, idiosyncratic child began to hear spirits whispering, frightening messages on her.
At 14 she first tried to remove herself from this world.
At 23 she found the demands of adulthood so overwhelming that she started to self-medicate with alcohol, synthetic & weed & # 39; and the abuse of her prescribed antipsychotic. By the time she was 25, the spirits in her head had turned into evil demons who cried so hard that they would not give her a chance to rest.
We have tried her many times to help her. We begged so many people – even hoping to institutionalize her when we realized that she would no longer respond voluntarily.
But nothing happened.
Anna's life is now better than it has been for many years.
She is safer in one place and surrounded by more compassion than we ever thought possible.
With regular sleep and good nutrition, with antipsychotics controlled and administered by a doctor, she no longer hears terrible voices or craves illicit drugs. She is proud of how neat and clean she keeps her room, where she has made a small book corner in a corner.
More importantly, when she leaves her room she has to have a job and accompany activities to participate in Her favorites are the drama group and music lessons. Anna always struggled painfully with relationships, but here she learns to continue with other young women.
Although she has made a number of mistakes and paid the consequences, she forges better friendships than ever before. At the same time she is respected by the staff, who appreciate her intelligent humor, her willingness to work and her help with the newcomers.
While my husband John, her sister Katie and I are happy, Anna's life is moving in a positive direction, we will never accept how she got there.
This should not have happened. It should not have happened to the other people with a mental illness who have been killed since Anna went to jail. Let's not let it happen again.
How did our daughter, who did not read a novel as a child because she could not tell that something is happening to someone, is about to commit murder? ?
As a writer I have tried to discover that from thousands of words, too many to go into this. But I can tell you about a few decisions that still hurt my heart, because I believe that if the choices made by the executives had been different, a good man would still be alive.
John and I desperately wanted to get Anna into the 18-month residential rehabilitation program for people with addictions, run by Odyssey House. Their goals of teaching life skills were ideal, so we went to their Richmond headquarters for information sessions on numerous occasions.
We dragged Anna in for interviews. I tried to teach her how she could get there by public transport. But after I had called Odyssey House a dozen times to find out if she could be put on the waiting list, I was finally told that Anna's mental health problems were too complicated and uncontrolled to deal with.
was deeply disappointing, but a decision taken a year later by another organization was devastating.
By then Anna had discovered ice. Although she only lived in it, it was enough to transfer her to real psychosis.
In her devastated mind, John and I were no longer replacing her respected parents, but were replaced by evil look-alikes who took pleasure in abusing her. When she threatened us, and insisted that we had random boys whom she happened to meet, we finally told her she could not live with us anymore.
In the months that followed she was picked up more than once by the police and admitted to closed psychiatric departments according to the Mental Health Act. Unfortunately they could only keep her for a few days.
There were also periods of rest. She started to love her again and her father and I started to trust, and although we helped her financially, we could not resume the exhausting struggle to let her live with us. Sometimes she stayed with Katie or an elderly man who became friends with a caring organization.
I was particularly grateful for a tireless worker from the Personal Helpers and Mentors program (PHaMs), a government-funded initiative for people with mental illness, whom I tracked down when Anna was still living with us.
I'm sure Caroline * has spent many more hours than she was paid for in an effort to help Anna. Apart from taking Anna shopping and out for a cup of coffee to alleviate her loneliness, Caroline Anna even insured a place in a residential mental health facility called PARC, which stands for adult prevention and recovery care.
The stay would only be for a few weeks, but Caroline and I – and Anna themselves had great hope that this could be the beginning of a productive life.
So Anna appeared on time at this place on the first morning, which was a huge achievement for her. But then she panicked. What if they did not let her take as much Seroquel as she felt she needed? In case she put the pills she had with her in her underwear. When the admiring nurse brought her to her room, the pills fell out.
Although this medicine was that Anna had been prescribed, she had lied about having the medicine. She should have handed it over. She had hurt the rules of the facility and so she was sent away.
terrible decision. I do not blame the nurse; she only followed the protocol. I blame the Victorian government, which provides substantial funding for both Odyssey House and PARC.
You, the government, told us that our daughter could not participate in a program for addiction rehabilitation because she had a mental illness. Later she was admitted to one of your mental health facilities, and within a few minutes you rejected her because you discovered she was abusing substances.
Are you even beginning to realize how much courage it cost her to go to that place? This desperately ill girl has finally contacted you for help far beyond the capacity of her family or individual professionals to provide. And you rejected her.
I hope that in the three years since then you have learned that for so many people mental illness and addiction are hopelessly intertwined.
MORE: My sister should never have been allowed to kill
What about the time, while Anna was still living with us and in the following months, when she was taken by police or ambulance to an emergency department in one of your public hospitals?
We have told you, and more and more often Anna told her that she should be in a closed psychiatric ward. There were times when you allowed her a few days, like when she was so psychotic that she screamed in fear because she believed that the nurses were supernatural gang members dressed in medical scrubs.
More often you gave her the assignment to lie there the ED until she became more sober and then she had to leave. There were not enough beds in the psychiatric ward for her, you said. She was not bad enough. It took the death of a beloved man to prove how bad she really was.
I would like to see that this has changed too, that families and clients themselves may be believed when they say they must be locked up before they kill themselves or commit a gruesome crime.
But when I was writing this article, I took a break to drink coffee and browse the news on my phone. And there it was, a story that made me sick. A young Victorian woman has been accused of murdering a promising master student from India, the only son of his distraught parents.
According to the author of the article, the woman published on social media that she was not taken seriously when she told her psychiatrist that she was "ill". Apparently she also wrote: "If they believed me when I said I'm not healthy … I live in fear, afraid of what's behind the corner, my heart is black … demons are real and ghosts are too, they live in us and sometimes they win. "
This is creepy similar to what Anna has admitted, and with government agencies.
We need a better system. We need more places in safe psychiatric facilities and people have to stay there longer than just a few days.
Patients who are as ill as Anna have forced and needed time to recover the sleep patterns, absorb good nutrition and stabilized with counseling and medication. Only then, when the crying demons in their heads have been reduced to background noise, can they be expected to start making rational decisions.
After they leave the psychiatric ward, they need a long-term placement in a residential rehabilitation facility where they receive compassionate care from a team of experts who know how to help people with the dual diagnosis of mental illness and addiction.
After a few years of learning and practicing life skills, some of these people may be able to assume all the responsibilities of an independent life. Many others need help with certain aspects of being mature. For example, they can hold a job, but still need help with budgeting, cleaning, cooking and keeping friends. These people must be provided with supported housing and dedicated helpers such as Caroline.
Of course, my plan would cost a lot of money. But how many millions will it cost to keep Anna and others like them in prison or a forensic mental health hospital for decades? Who can pay a price on the precious life they have taken, or the families they have shattered?
Gorgeous Girl by Mary Pershall, published by Penguin Random House, is now available, AVP $ 34.99
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