South Australia will introduce a statewide model of care for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) from next month.
- The introduction of the care model follows the deaths of two South Australian women who suffered from BPD
- The mother of one of the women says the new centre of excellence will be invaluable for many people with BPD
- The leader of the project says the new approach will take time to implement
The shift in approach follows years of campaigning by advocates and damning findings from a coronial inquest into the deaths of two young women.
Miranda Howard and Aurora McPherson-Smith both struggled with BPD and died from complications associated with suicide attempts — Miranda in 2013 when she was 22 and Aurora in 2015 when she was 18.
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After investigating their deaths, deputy state coroner Jayne Basheer found the high death rate of patients with severe BPD would continue unless changes were urgently made to address the state’s lack of adequate services to treat the disorder.
During the election, both major parties committed to funding a centre of excellence in Adelaide for BPD patients and the Liberal Government delivered on the promise.
$13 million will be provided over four years to implement the new model of care, which includes specialised treatment and a services centre located in Unley.
Mother says the ‘pain will always be with us’
Ms Howard’s mother Robyn Pettigrew welcomed the changes but said they should have happened long ago — especially given there had been similar models of care in the eastern states for years.
“No-one should have been left to suffer like my daughter Miranda; she was let down by all sectors of the mental health system,” she said.
“The pain and sadness of Miranda’s suffering will always be with us.
“But today is a good and happy day because now there is hope and future for those with BPD, and there will be skilled and passionate services provided for them.”
Ms Pettigrew said improved services would have made a “huge difference” to her daughter’s wellbeing.
“I felt so isolated and alone trying to fight the mental health system and trying to work out how I could best support my daughter … a lot of them would not listen,” she said.
“Miranda tried really, really hard to survive, but the support wasn’t there, or the wrong support was given or the wrong diagnosis.”
Aurora McPherson-Smith with her mother Julie McPherson, who is now speaking out about BPD treatment. (Supplied)
Centre will be ‘invaluable for sufferers’
Ms McPherson-Smith’s mother Julie McPherson said she was pleased the State Government acted on the coroner’s recommendations and other families would benefit from the BPD centre.
“I know if Aurora was alive today this would be a haven, it would be a wonderful place knowing that there were people here who are sensitive and caring to her needs and us as a family,” she said.
“That’s the only thing that makes today a sad day for us in many ways, that Aurora can’t access this centre, which is going to be invaluable for many sufferers and their families.”
Aaron Fornarino said it had been a “turbulent ride” since he was diagnosed with BPD when he was 14 years old.
“Lots of hospital admissions, medications and attempting to seek treatment only to find there was none,” he said.
“To make it worse, some mental health professionals considered it a ‘waste basket diagnosis’ — as in, psychiatrists couldn’t figure out what was going on, so they would label you with borderline personality disorder.”
He said he was hopeful the new model of care would help people receive the correct treatment.
“You can overcome BPD with the right treatment and supports and you can seek to either study or work … I believe that you can manage and recover from BPD,” he said.
Need for services previously ‘ignored’
Health Minister Stephen Wade acknowledged that despite there being up to 68,000 people in South Australia living with BPD, the condition had been ignored within the mental health system.
“I think it’s taken a long time because of that stigma and discrimination and as a result of that the need has either been understated or ignored,” he said.
“There will be training here to make sure people right across the health network have skills in providing care for people with BPD, but also to support a network of clinicians right across the health system.”
But senior psychiatrist Martha Kent, who is the clinical leader of the project, said such a significant shift in approach would take time to implement.
“We will have 10 local health networks that we need to be in an active partnership with. Each of those health networks has a different configuration and a different level of sophistication of their BPD services,” she said.
“This is going to be a huge and very complicated project … [but] I am confident we will get there.
“In a couple of years we will see a radical remaking of the system of care for people with borderline personality disorder.
“[It will be] a system of care that offers respect, dignity, compassion and hope, rather than a system which up until now has been intermittently exclusive of people and sometimes hostile and rejecting.”