A Question of Care for Historic Abuse Survivors

Work in progress…

“The morbidity associated with complex trauma is vast and a great burden not only on these sufferers but on the health system. There are, at the moment, only the most
inadequate forms of service delivery available to these people. The guidelines
approach an urgent health service delivery requirement.

Professor Russell Meares
Emeritus Professor, Psychiatry, University of Sydney (from ASCA practice guidelines for treatment of complex trauma)

I recently (1/11/2012) returned to Australia after more than six years abroad – mostly living in Asia. The reason for my return is to study a Masters in Human Rights and to get counselling for PTSD (or complex PTSD as the case may be). The latter of which (counselling) now looks improbable and I’m awaiting an appointment with ‘Mental Health Services’ to get medicated after I discovered that Australia in its infinite wisdom now deems the drug Xanax, which I was originally prescribed in Australia, a widely abused drug of addiction which makes it largely impossible to get (thus, I was forced into cold turkey withdrawal/detox from 3mg’s a day of a highly addictive drug, even when doctors advise withdrawing from anything more than 2mg’s a day is dangerous —- worst case scenario, resulting in fitting and death). Other than this, after seeing SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) four times I was redirected to a men’s group for healthy living (something I objected to and have passed on; albeit, I didn’t qualify for this group) Download my formal complaint to SARC here (111 KB PDF)…

Long and short of it, after two months in Australia I am without counselling and without medication. Other than this, my appointment with Mental Health Services has taken over two months and I will finally  see them on February 15th (as I write it is January 5th, 2013 and I first visited a doctor for a referral on December 12th, 2012… with respect for an overburdened system one does wonder what would happen if someone were suicidal?). The thing I must now decide is whether to stay in Australia or return to Asia where I can at least get my meds.

Why is it that adult survivors of child abuse receive such substandard care?

As the organisation Adults Surviving Child Abuse point out: “Many health professionals acknowledge the impact of child abuse in their everyday work with adult clients in a range of contexts, from general practice, to mental health services, to alcohol and drug services, and beyond. Nonetheless, Australia has yet to develop a trauma-informed public health system that provides adequate care to adult survivors of child abuse. Australia’s mental health system is underfunded, with far fewer dedicated beds and services than comparable Western countries. In Australia, patients with psychoses and/or otherwise “acute needs” are prioritised over patients with complex, chronic mental health problems, such as those that adult survivors of child abuse can display.”

Just a few recent failures of note in my case (“recent” because the list goes back to zero care/support and a cover up of my abuse by the NZ “care” system over 30 years ago):

  1. It took over twenty-five years to be diagnosed with a trauma related syndrome. This only happened when I was able to afford to see a private psychologist.
  2. I had a complete breakdown in 2003. At that time Mental Health Services referred me to a psychiatrist who, a) failed to diagnose me with a trauma related syndrome, b) failed to address that I had been abused in state care (albeit that this was a tiny note in the mental health notes that read, “alleges he was sexually abused in state care”), c) diagnosed me as an “outlier” – as far as I know not even a psychiatric condition, d) eventually prescribed me Dexamphetamine for ADD, and e) wanted to send me for drug/piss tests after I told him I smoked cannabis regularly (this being after he put me on amphetamines/speed which was entirely the wrong medication – I ceased all contact at that point)
  3. Thus, after three years of inadequate treatment and being a guinea pig for numerous drugs, from antidepressants to amphetamines to anti-psychotics, I lost my job, my home, and my long-term partner, and left Australia in 2006. (The anti-psychotics being very special. They left me feeling suicidal, slurring my words, and with a pronounced limp. My partner at the time found the effect they had on me so harrowing it left her in tears and on the verge of a nervous breakdown herself)
  4. In 2008/2009 I returned briefly to Australia to get help. At the time I was totally suicidal and my, what I refer to as “spatial glitches”, labelled “complex partial seizures” by a medical professional (where I blackout and lose time – seemingly becoming someone else), were becoming increasingly worse. I had taken my partner to the meeting with mental health on this occasion. The psychologist/psychiatrist/mental health nurse had spoken to and asked questions of me while looking directly at my partner throughout the entire session – never addressing me directly. When I had said, “look, why are you looking at her and talking to me they took this as overly aggressive (God forbid that a client would question their lack of professionalism) and ended the meeting.” As a result, on this occasion, I received no referral or further assistance. I left Australia shortly after this meeting. The spatial glitches remain with me to this day (albeit somewhat less frequent than before)
  5. In 2012 I visited SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre). I was asked by the counsellor on the second session what I wanted to achieve from counselling. My response was that I wanted to deal with complex trauma. She informed me that she didn’t like the “label” and couldn’t counsel for PTSD or C-PTSD.  After four sessions I was redirected by the counsellor to a male goup for healthy living which I didn’t qualify for. I objected to this referral at the time and have subsequently lodged a formal complaint with the organisation. After lodging a complaint I was called in for a meeting where I was assigned a new counsellor (one who could apparently counsel for trauma). I have subsequently canceled the appointment  based on the fact that I would feel extremely uncomfortable in this setting again (trust being imperative in a counsellor, client relationship where the client is expected to reveal their most inner feelings, memories, fears etc).
  6. It has taken over two months to get an appointment with Mental Health Services. In the meantime I have been forced to disclose my abuse to several medical professionals (GPs and ‘A&E’ staff) and I am without the medication I have relied on for over six years to alleviate symptoms of PTSD (“symptoms” being massive anxiety which renders me unable to function). I am told that it is unlikely that I will get a prescription for Xanax in Australia. When questioning the sanity of this (“let’s also deny the clinically depressed, schizophrenics and bipolar sufferers of their medication”) I have been informed that now psychiatrists use PTSD/C-PTSD sufferers, many of whom are abuse survivors, as little more than “guinea pigs” (footnote) and prescribe them with SSRI anti-depressants and/or anti-psychotics (options I will flatly reject on the grounds that I am not a pharmaceutical guinea pig  and both medications have failed abysmally in the past when I was naive enough to place some faith in government mental health providers).
  7. After filing a complaint with SARC I received an apology that concluded. “In conclusion to this investigation, it is evident that it was omitted to consider your transfer to another clinician at SARC… This is usually achieved by an internal referral to another clinician at SARC. I apologise that you were not transferred to another clinician…It is clear that aspects of our communication with you were not of the best standard. Please accept my sincere apologies for this as it clearly distressed you and resulted in you feeling that our services were unable to support you. We are always striving to improve our services and thank you for drawing the matter to our attention…. Author’s note: I am so damn sick of incompetent Government bastards apologising after the fact!
  8. After less than a year in Australia I am now packing up and returning to Asia where I can get my medication. My logic is that two years of good life is better than 20 of garbage so when my money runs out the game is over. All good. Life isn’t worth a thing when you are crippled by anxiety.

It staggers me now when I look back on this “care” that no so called professional in government was able to see that I suffered from a trauma related syndrome. This is even more perplexing when one considers trauma is so closely linked to child abuse and survivors (one doesn’t need a degree in psychology to understand this). Finally, at least in part, we got it right when I visited my GP and he prescribed me Xanax, a very effective drug for anxiety, albeit highly addictive (having been forced to experience the horrors of Xanax cold turkey withdrawal I absolutely concur – rapid detox best likened to having ones brained probed with a cold steel spoon while, at the same time, the anxiety which has been masked by the drug comes back with a vengeance)… And finally, I got an accurate diagnosis of a trauma related syndrome only after seeing a private psychologist – a total of two sessions to achieve what years of contact with government services couldn’t …

Why do historic abuse survivors receive such inadequate care? Because we are dealing with overwhelmed, underfunded, and patently incompetent government services! It really is that simple… I’d like to say that things have got better in the six years that I’ve been gone but, to be frank, given the comedy of errors I have encountered until now things look to have got worse.

Sadly, my story is far from unusual.

Footnote: When speaking to a mental health nurse at the state run Inner City Mental Health services about the likelihood of being prescribed Xanax in Australia he pointed out that due to its over prescription and its status as a drug of addiction and abuse it would be unlikely that I would get a prescription. I quizzed him on this and asked what are they now prescribing instead? His response was that psychiatrists were experimenting with SSRIs (antidepressants/anti-anxiety’s) and/or anti- psychotics. My response was, so because GPs have taken the piss and won holidays through over-prescribing a very effective anti-anxiety drug to junkies, psychiatrists are now using trauma sufferers as guinea pigs? His answer was, “pretty much so… yes.” Hmmm?

More on adult survivors of child abuse and complex trauma here (a must read for survivors)

More soon.

4 comments on “A Question of Care for Historic Abuse Survivors

  1. audrey on said:

    I have only just found out about these claims as I have lived in Australia for years. Only the people who have lived through what we have know how it destroys you little by little until. I was in care in a home in the 80′s when I was 11 and suffered terribly . I am so proud and grateful to you for having this site as it has helped me decide to make a claim and for once in my life tell about what happened to me . Thank you

    • admin_grant on said:

      My pleasure. The point of this site is to raise awareness overall. Like yourself I have lived outside of New Zealand for many many years (as I expect many others have also – leaving NZ is the best thing we could do under the circumstances). If you need any further help please make contact via the form on the site. I may be able to offer some guidance re lodging your complaint. Best

  2. Bill Earnshaw on said:

    I have been on Effexor Veniafaxine 300 mg daily for past 3 years or so. It was ok keeping me relatively stable over first year, but haven’t been working at all past 2 years. Very serious overdose of morphine/barbiturates 31 July 2013, found after 4 days unconscious, barely a pulse. 3 months or so to recover. Been still up and down with Bipolar type symptoms since, and still quite down and suicidal thoughts. I’m very tired of the long fight to live. ……

    • admin_grant on said:

      I think many of us struggle Bill with thoughts of suicide. Certainly I know some days I wish it would all end. Certainly I have overdosed several times in my younger years (heroin) and died for 4 minutes on one occasion. I can’t say as I was too happy when they brought me back but today I am and hey tomoorow I may not be. Every day is a new day – some okay and some terrible and then once in a blue moon you actually feel joy and that makes it worth it. It’s tough mate — all of us can attest to that. PTSD eats you alive. To give up though is to let them win Bill. There’s not anything else I can say. I hope you have someone to talk to and there is always the suicide help lines. Pick up the cause mate and make it mean something.. We need people on the streets getting people to sign petitions, telling people what it is we live through. It gives us some meaning – something to fight for and something to hang on to. I spend a lot of my time lobbying and fighting for justice. It can be tough and cathartic but in knowing I can spare even a single child from going through what many survivors, including myself, endure keeps me going. Just a thought…. Ultimately the only person who can save your life is you. But you are also capable of saving the life of others. There’s something special in that and what we are makes us special and important. We bare testimony to the legacy of abuse and through that we are its history. When they bury us they bury that history. Kia kaha

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