Spotlight on regional mental health

A month-long battle to find care for a young man in the Pilbara has ended happily, but WA mental health lobbyists say there is still a long road ahead to improve services in regional areas.

James Lokan. Photo by Simon Lokan

Simon Lokan, 23, said his brother James, 21 pictured right, was denied proper mental health assessment and care when he attempted suicide almost four weeks ago.

James has Asperger’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, anxiety and depression.

“When James attempted suicide, I asked Pilbara Mental Health and Drug Service for an assessment and to fly him to Perth for proper treatment,” Simon said.

Simon said this was refused and James was not allowed access to his medical records or his assessment without completing a freedom of information request.

At the time James was a patient at Nickol Bay Hospital in Karratha.

Feeling disheartened, Simon got his message out on social media, creating a Facebook page called ‘Help James Lokan’.

The campaign caught the attention of Empowering People in Communities, or EPIC, a not-for-profit organisation funded by the Disability Services Commission.

And last week the commission gave the family a $50,000 grant.

Simon said the money would provide 24/7 care for James in his home for three months.

“As children, you are taught that you will get a happy ending, so it’s nice to have it, finally,” Simon said.

On behalf of the PMHDS, WA Country Health Services regional director Ron Wynn would not comment specifically on Mr Lokan’s claims.

“PMHDS will continue to work with EPIC and will be available to provide any support as required,” Mr Wynn said.

Ms Xamon hopes the government will allocate enough funding to improve the system. Photo by Clare Kenyon

“The positive outcome was achieved in a short timeframe through collaboration between the Disability Services Commission, EPIC, the WA Country Health Service and the patient’s family.”


WA Mental Health Association president Alison Xamon said issues with WA’s mental health system were aggravated in regional areas.

“Regional areas simply do not have the degree of community mental health that is needed,” Ms Xamon said.

“It’s slow enough in the metro areas but even more pressure is placed on primary health care providers and acute services in the regions.”

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists WA branch director Aaron Groves said regional areas had a serious shortage of trained clinical staff, including psychiatrists, mental health nurses, psychologists and social workers.

“As a consequence, there is a reliance on specialists to fly in at significant cost,” Dr Groves said.

“There are insufficient patient beds in the Midwest and the Pilbara, and so the people who need these types of treatment are referred needlessly to Perth or have very delayed care.”


James and Simon Lokan grateful for the grant. Photo By Phillip Lokan

The 2012 Stokes Review identified the need for a closer alignment between community services and the public system, something Ms Xamon said was imperative.

“People fall through the cracks and some patients are even released into nothing with no support,” she said.

Dr Groves said NGOs were a critical part of a comprehensive system.

“One without the other will not provide the types of care that people want and need, but they are seriously under-resourced in regional WA,” he said.

EPIC chief executive officer Kathy Hough said the organisation provided support for 60 people and their families in the Pilbara.

“We have a plan that relates to the person’s support requirements due to their disability,” she said.

“People who have a dual disability would seek support from mental health services in that area of their lives.”


The Mental Health Commission is expected to release a draft of its 10-Year Services Plan in October for consultation.

Commissioner Timothy Marney said the plan was expected to guide the development of an integrated mental health, alcohol and other drug service system.

“It will focus on prevention and early intervention, and support people with mental health, alcohol and other drug problems to recover, stay well and to lead rewarding lives,” Mr Marney said.

“The plan has highlighted the need to provide care close to where people live, wherever possible, to help people in rural and remote areas to stay connected to their families and local communities during their recovery.”

Dr Groves said he hoped the plan would outline enough funding to bring services up to a level that modern communities had come to expect.

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