Drugs and mental illness 'go hand in hand'  

Article from: AAP 

By Kellee Nolan 

September 03, 2007 03:17pm 

SUBSTANCE abuse and mental illness go hand-in-hand for hundreds of thousands of people and more options are needed to treat the problems together, a conference was told today. 

The Anex Illegal Drugs and Mental Health Conference in Melbourne was told that separating drug use and mental health treatment put lives at risk.  

Jo Buchanan, whose son Miles had depression and substance abuse problems, said that for more than 15 years Miles was shunted from psychiatric wards to drug rehabilitation units, never able to be treated for both problems at once.  

"One after another, one they would deal with depression, the next one would deal with the drugs, but never at the same time," Ms Buchanan told the opening day of the conference which is being conducted by Anex - the Association for Prevention and Harm Reduction Program.  

"Usually he was released prematurely from the hospital psychiatric wards before the effects of the anti-depressants had taken place, so he would come out and as soon as he succumbed to the depression, he turned to the drugs again, so next thing he'd be in rehab.  

"But you could not go into any rehab place if you were on anti-depressants. They would not accept you, so he had to go off the anti-depressants to be treated for his drug problems."  

She said that during this period, Miles attempted to kill himself several times.  

Mental Health Council of Australia chief executive David Crosbie said 500,000 peopel were facing mental illness and drug problems together. 

"It's the first time really we've had a national conference that said it was specifically about mental health and alcohol and other drugs, so it's really ground-breaking in that sense," Mr Crosbie said.  

He said rugby league star Andrew Johns' admission of having depression and substance abuse highlighted the issue.  

"It's not coincidental, the reality is that drug problems are a big part of our community and mental health problems are a big part of our community and the kind of case described by Andrew Johns where he had depression that led to heavy alcohol use and occasional ecstasy use to me is very common.  

"What surprises me I suppose is that the community will focus almost exclusively on the illicit drug use and not on the mental health or the alcohol use, which are also very important factors for many people who have both conditions."  

Mr Crosbie said people facing mental health and drug problems needed to be treated more holistically, with their experiences and life situations taken into account when looking for solutions.
Recommendations from the two-day conference will go to state and federal governments.