Mental health call outs: who should respond?

In 2023, four people experiencing an acute mental health crisis were killed by NSW Police in the space of four months. Earlier this year, an inquest into the NSW Police fatal shooting of Todd McKenzie in his home while he was experiencing a psychotic episode criticised the conduct of the officers involved. 

Families and friends of those killed, health and justice experts, and concerned members of the community are calling for a new approach to responding to people with mental illness

Earlier this month a NSW parliamentary inquiry found police attendance in “mental health emergencies can escalate emotional and psychological distress and has been harmful in a significant number of cases.” It also highlighted that a broad range of stakeholders, including police representatives, support a health-led approach to mental health emergencies.  

The National Justice Project, Redfern Legal Centre, Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre are hosting a forum to examine alternatives to a law and order response that routinely sends police to engage with people with mental health concerns. This is a health issue that requires a health response. 

Date: Thursday 20 June 2024 
Time: 12:30 arrival for event 12:45-2pm 
Venue: Macquarie Room, NSW Parliament 

Author and media commentator James O’Loghlin will host the lunchtime forum, featuring the NSW Minister for Mental Health, legal, mental health and disability experts and mothers with lived experience of fatal encounters with police (see full bios below). 

This is a free event but please RSVP to let us know if you plan to attend.

Please note that guests will be required to pass through the NSW Parliament security check. Lunch will not be provided.

Participants 

James O’Loghlin (host) is a renowned television and radio host, and author. In a former life, he was a corporate and criminal lawyer, then stand-up comedian. Most recently, James has co-authored the book Minding Your Mind with Professor Ian Hickie and together they host the Minding Your Mind podcast, which explores aspects of mental health and the solutions to mental health issues. 

Rose Jackson is a Labor Member of the NSW Legislative Council and Minister for Mental Health, Housing, Homelessness, Youth, Water and the North Coast. Rose was elected to the Legislative Council in May 2019 and has been fighting for real action on climate change and tackling homelessness and housing affordability. Rose has also held a variety of roles within the labour and union movement including Assistant Secretary of NSW Labor and as an official for United Voice (formerly LHMU). 

Leesa Topic is the mother of Courtney Topic, who was fatally shot by police in 2015, aged 22, while she was likely suffering a severe psychotic episode. The Coroner described the police tactics leading to Courtney’s death as ‘entirely inappropriate’. Leesa is a determined advocate calling for reform of the way we respond to people in mental distress. 

Judy Deacon is the mother of Jesse Deacon, who was fatally shot by police in July 2023, inside his home at Glebe. Police were called to Jesse’s home by a neighbour, who suspected he was self harming. When police arrived, Jesse was holding a knife. After an attempt to taser him failed, he was shot dead. Since Jesse’s death, Judy has been lobbying for a full investigation and changes to how we respond to people needing mental health support. 

Dr Olav Nielssen is a psychiatrist with an appointment at St Vincent’s Hospital and as Professor of Psychiatry at Macquarie University. Dr Nielssen performs a weekly clinic at the Matthew Talbot Hostel for the homeless, is the founder and chair of Habilis Housing and has published a large body of research on homicide, suicide, substance use, risk assessment and homelessness. 

Kate Wild is an investigative journalist and author whose work with distinguished teams at the ABC has been recognised with three Walkley Awards and a Logie. Her first book, Waiting for Elijah, documents Kate’s six-year investigation into the circumstances leading to the death of Elijah Holcombe. Elijah was 24 and had a history of mental illness when he was shot by police in Armidale, NSW, in 2009.  

George Newhouse is a human rights lawyer and CEO of the National Justice Project, a social justice legal service fighting systemic discrimination in policing, prisons, offshore detention, and healthcare. George recently represented the family of Todd McKenzie at a coronial inquest into his death. Todd had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was killed in his home by police in 2019 while he was experiencing a psychotic episode.    

Damian Griffis is CEO of the First Peoples Disability Network (FPDN) and a descendant of the Worimi people of the Manning Valley in NSW. He is a leading advocate for the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with disability. Damian has been a central figure in the establishment of both the Aboriginal Disability Network NSW and the national organisation representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disabilities and their families – the First Peoples Disability Network Australia (FPDN). 

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