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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8440

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (22:25): On 5 October this year the first borderline personality disorder conference was held. A number of issues were talked about across the country, particularly understanding the need for awareness of borderline personality disorder. We first learnt about this condition when we were involved in the Senate Select Committee on Mental Health and then later, in 2008, the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs.

One of the real privileges of this position and working in this place is the people you meet and the people who are so prepared to give you great understanding of their own stories and pain. During the process of those committees, we were honoured to meet with Merinda Epstein from Victoria, a passionate advocate for consumer rights and also a woman who had struggled—finally, after 15 separate diagnoses in the mental health system—with the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. Merinda is an artist. She confronts us with extraordinary cartoons and stories about the issues of living with mental ill health in our community. When she spoke to us in our committee, she led her evidence with the most confronting statement. It was not in her own words; it was one that she had heard from a group of young women who were working on the issues of mental health in Melbourne:

I thought I would write my life story but instead. I am just going to photocopy my arms.

This statement brought truth to the people who were on the committee about the issues of self-harm and pain caused to people who struggle with borderline personality disorder.

We know—and it is very important to know—that there is increasing understanding of the condition, but the history within the mental health system in Australia has been plagued by the most terrible examples of misdiagnosis, stigma, pain and victimisation of people who are struggling with this illness. Now we are fortunate that there is more understanding, and certainly the federal government has had a role to play with this. After considerable work by the Senate committees—who are raising the issues around this, drawn and directed by the people who gave us their stories—there has been action taken. On 29 April 2010, the Minister for Health and Ageing gave approval for the development of an Austra­lian clinical guideline on BPD and also the development of a task force—an expert group to progress and oversee the initiative. The expert reference group has called together representation from mental health clinicians, GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, carers and, most importantly consumers. These people understand the issues and they know why we must change in our community.

The borderline personality disorder conference in Melbourne, which attracted over 300 people from the community to talk about these issues and to look at how we can progress change, had a number of recom­mendations that came out of the meeting. Critical amongst them was the need for training and skill development, and also increased community awareness and campa­igning. I want to pay real tribute to my friend Janne McMahon from South Australia, another woman I met through the Senate process, who has worked tirelessly in the area and has been such a champion to ensure that there is more awareness and acceptance within our community.

I know that I need to talk about the HYPE program at ORYGEN services in Melbourne. I have been privileged to visit there and to have a feeling of real hope about the future. We know we need to diagnose issues early, and we know that the issues around borderline personality disorder often are expressed earliest in adolescence—the issues around unstable emotions; problems with identity, self-image and thinking; difficulty with forming strong relationships; turbulent expressions of relationships with other people; and the impulsive nature of behaviour. These are all things that can lead to great judgment and victimisation from others.

There has been change. There must be more. We need to understand and listen to the people who give us their own experiences and to ensure that people who identify with borderline personality disorder are treated with respect and compassion rather than judgment and abuse.

Senate adjourned at 22:29