Grieving family seeks changes in mental health system

COMFORT: David Sessions, Jenny Allen, and Michael Sessions read a condolence card, on the death of their brother, Bernie Sessions. Bernie Sessions was never one to talk a lot. But his life and losshave in themselves become a powerful voice in calling for a greaterfocus onmental health.
SuZhou Night Recruitment

Bernie Sessions was widely known as The Man in the Doorway, as he sat outside his unit beside Maitland Road in Mayfield, greeting passers-by. Bernie Sessions died last week. His sister, Jenny Allen, said her older brother had been battling paranoid schizophrenia and took his own life.

The doorway that was the domain of the Mayfield identity has become a shrine, filled with flowersand words of sympathy and comfort. The Sessions family has been absorbingthose words.

“Fly high. Give us one last wave on your way,” MrsAllen read out from one note.

Jenny Allen reads a note of condolences placed at the doorway where her brother, Bernie Sessions, used to sit. Picture: Simone De Peak

While many have been moved by the death of the Man in the Doorway, there are also questions about what could have been done to helpBernieSessions. Jenny Allen said just twodays before her brother’s death, she and her mother had sought help from local mental health services but were turned away, being told he was not sick enough.

“It makes you wonder how many people with schizophrenia take their lives and they just disappear, and their family grieves but no one else knows,” said David Sessions.

Rob Ramjan, the CEO of supportorganisation One Door Mental Health, said he heard “all too often” stories such as Bernie Sessions’.

“We should be looking at prevention, rehabilitation, recovery in the community, not waiting until people need admission to hospital,” Mr Ramjansaid.

“It’s the only area of health that I know of where rehabilitation doesn’t commence at first contact or first consciousness; rehabilitation is an afterthought, if it’s ever a thought.”

Among those paying respects at the doorway was Allan. He said members of his family had experienced serious mental health issues.“The more we talk about it, the more people in high places willlisten,” he said.

Hunter New England Mental Health Service executive director, Dr Marcia Fogarty,said while she couldn’t provide specific details, the service would review “the circumstances surrounding Mr Sessions’ deathand look into any issues about his care”.

Jenny Allen said she had been invited to participate in the investigation of her brother’s case and see “where things can improve”. She is also waiting to speak with a representative of theNSW Minister for Mental Health, Tanya Davies.

“It’s trying to bring change to legislation, and to the policies and procedures around mental health help,” Mrs Allensaid. “We should not turn people away who need help.”

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Comments are closed.