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Grieving Kalgoorlie families plead for new mental health unit in wake of tragic deaths

Jordan Williams was 20 years old and an inpatient at the mental health unit in the Kalgoorlie Health Campus when he died.

Four years later, his uncle’s eyes well up as he runs his hand along his nephew’s headstone and remembers his infectious smile.

“He got into mischief like every other kid,” Ben Williams said.

“You could tell him off and he’d come back smiling and five minutes later.”

The coroner investigating Jordan’s death heard conditions in the mental health unit were so poor that visiting staff vowed to never return.

Jordan, who lost both his parents in the two preceding years, was experiencing an acute psychotic episode.

Coroner Michael Jenkin said it was “astounding” he was allowed out of his room and was able to escape having already absconded once earlier in the day.

A young man wearing a dark T-shirt and a chain.
Jordan’s family says he would still be alive if Kalgoorlie’s facilities were adequate.(Supplied)

‘dig out some money’

In his findings, Mr Jenkin called for the West Australian government to deliver a completely new, adequately staffed mental health unit in the Goldfields as soon as possible.

Despite a $5.7-billion surplus, the government did not commit any money to the proposal in its May budget.

WA Health Minister Amber Jade Sanderson declined to speak to the ABC about the matter.

A spokesperson said the recommendations were being considered.

Two men, one younger, one older, stand outside a health facility.
Ben and Jordan’s grandfather Cole Williams are frustrated with the lack of action.(ABC Goldfields: Mark Bennett)

Ben, a boilermaker, said he was worried more families in the Goldfields would lose loved ones before action was taken.

“Put your hand in your wallet and dig out some money for this facility, because we need it,” he said.

The resource-rich Goldfields region has one of the highest suicide rates in the country.

“In the Goldfields here, we bust our asses and we work,” Ben said.

A dark-haired woman holds a picture of her son.
Sharon Duffy is advocating for change after losing her son.(ABC Goldfields: Mark Bennett)

No beds for suicidal youth

Sharon Duffy also struggled to get help for her son, Bryce Duffy, in Kalgoorlie.

“He was suicidal and we needed help at the hospital, which was really hard, because there’s no child mental health beds at the hospital,” she said.

“So we just went home and had to deal with it ourselves in the family.”

Bryce, who had a history of trying to get help, died at the start of last year at the age of 19.

“It feels powerless,” Ms. Duffy said.

The entrance to the emergency department at a hospital.
A nurse told the coronial inquest she wanted to turn on her heels and leave when she first saw the mental health unit in Kalgoorlie.(ABC Goldfields: Elsa Silberstein)

There are six inpatient mental health beds for the entire Goldfields area, which is more than three times the size of Victoria and has a population of almost 60,000.

There are no beds for patients younger than 18.

Just months after losing Bryce, Ms Duffy joined a ministerial mental health task force via local MLA Ali Kent to advocate for more beds for suicidal youth.

“It would mean a lot to me just knowing that not as many, or no families, hopefully, would have to go through what my family has, and lose someone that they love,” Ms Duffy said.

A young woman wearing a dark top in front of an outback town.
Amy Astill says young people’s health suffers more when their pleas go unheard.(ABC Goldfields: Madison Snow)

‘Screaming’ to be heard

Amy Astill has lived in Kalgoorlie all her life.

The 20-year-old councilor, one of the youngest in WA’s history, said she could no longer count on her hands and toes the number of friends she had lost to suicide.

“Young people here are screaming and asking for help,” Ms Astill said.

“The evidence shows that the help that we’re asking for is justified and I think that’s when we see more issues arise, when young people ask for help and they’re ignored.”

A woman with blonde hair and glasses addresses the media.
Libby Mettam says the government’s lack of action “beggars belief.”(ABC News: Keane Bourke)

Opposition spokesperson for Health Libby Mettam said Mark McGowan’s government had dragged its heels on the issue.

“It is plainly clear that the Kalgoorlie community deserves a dedicated facility,” she said.

She called on the Health Minister to commit to funding a new unit and said reports of suicidal youth being sent home were “deeply concerning.”

“The fact that the McGowan government is ignoring the pleas from the WA Coroner to fast-track a dedicated facility in a region which has experienced some of the country’s highest suicide rates absolutely beggars belief.”

The WA Country Health Service offered its condolences to the Williams family, but Mr Jenkin noted in his report that words meant little by themselves.

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