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In 1942, Robert Menzies delivered a speech appealing to the Australian people struggling to maintain a derivative culture, envisioning ‘a community of people whose motto shall be, “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”’
However, 70 years later, society seems to have ignored his plea, still struggling with social problems that contribute to mental health.
The Park Center for Mental Health Treatment, Research and Education is a specialised psychiatric hospital with a history that represents an uncivilised society willing to shut people away, including children, who did not fit into their societal norm.
Dr. Adele Chynoweth says it seemed to be confused between insanity and criminality, and that “it was much easier to palm off people who were not worthy of investment… It reflected an attitude of a lack of social justice.”
Father Wally Dethlefts first visited The Park in the 1960’s after discovering youths were locked up alongside the criminally insane. “It seemed to be a place where they dumped people like a warehouse,” he said.
Dethlefts continued to visit The Park in the late 1970’s, and was appalled that children were still locked up with adults and unqualified staff, “many of whom had psychiatric problems themselves,” he said.
Brisbane Psychologist Kim Uildriks says, “Ignorance comes from a lack of education. [And] as a child you can’t escape the trauma inflicted on you…however people overreact to adult trauma. I find that 100% of my patients exhibit signs of stress, which lead to most disorders,” many of which are exhibited by former institutionalised people.
The Park has continually reinvented itself to reflect the evolution of the treatment of psychiatric disorders. Endlessly renamed, it parallels the story of Queensland, as each generation puts its stamp in the historic facility.
“The place has definitely evolved,” Dethlefts said. “The staff there worked their little hearts out to bring about change.” He is still in contact with former residents, including Sue Treweek, who spent eight years at The Park after being sent there as a 15 year old in 1980.
Social and community problems have shifted the paradigm between how people viewed mental illness in the past, and how people view them now. Yet, we still need to do more to change the societal view on mental health.
National Mental Health Week is held from the 6 -12 of October. To find out how you can be involved next year, visit www.mhca.org.au.
By Claire Fitzparick