Schizophrenia; Care or jail-time?


Left to Right; Frank and Gerard about 1942!

Last night’s 4 Corners program on the ABC featured the story of a young man who after many years of abhorrent behaviour ended up killing 6 people. It traced his days as a young boy who went through school whereby according to the friends and teachers he already showed up as a boy who was different, with strange behaviours who was increasingly becoming more and more erratic and dangerous. At 14 years of age the school went into lock-down as he had taken detonators to school. He gave as reason;  to blow up the school and get even with his fellow students for picking on him.

James Gargasoulas was a troubled young man. The ABC decided to spend seven months on the story in order to point out that the tragedy not only could have been, but should have been avoided. It was clear that his spree of crime and violence was well known to the police and for some years. Nothing was done about him and one wonders why when the signs were so overwhelming and his behaviour so unpredictable that nothing was done to try and find out why his behaviour was so unpredictable. Why did it not get picked up that his mental state was in need of serious diagnoses and given some kind of mental examination and care? The only thing sure was the continuation and repeat of his unpredictable behaviour. He was diagnosed with Schizophrenia but none-the- less sent to life-time jail. He killed 6 people. It seems that the only place for mentally ill people who commit violence in Australia is jail.

This whole episode brought back the story of my own brother, Frank. He too was unpredictable and given to bouts of rage and violence. His behaviour too started well before adulthood. He too stood out and was different. His behaviour became unmanageable for my parents and at one stage after have stabbed one of my brothers with scissors was taken in and put in a mental hospital. This was back around 1958 or so, when Frank was just 19, and I was one year younger. His stay in that mental institution was something out of the middle ages or Bedlam. He would be wrapped in wet blankets to try and subdue him! Wardens would walk around with keys dangling from belts. I am just regaling memories of a period when I too was still a young man.

014Frank's birthday

(Right) My dear brother Frank in Holland, a few month before he passed away.

It was a horrible situation.  Our family suffered badly during that period. There was (as so often) a Royal Commission in the affairs of that Mental Hospital, Callan Park, but nothing improved. I am not sure if mental health has improved in the intervening decades! I doubt it. The episode of James  Gargasoulas is proof that mentally ill people remain undiagnosed and not given due care, no matter what happens, and what terrible deeds result from their unpredictable nature due to that illness.

At one stage my brother Frank jumped from a bridge and badly mangled his foot. After many years of bureaucratic battles my parents managed to get him back to Holland where conditions for mentally sick people already then were much better. For the rest of his life he was given good care and was no danger to others or himself. He spent a lifetime in a care institution where he would be managed  and looked after as well as possible. He would be given good care for his physical well being. He had an income for his cigarettes, clothes, or whatever he wanted. He had his own room with TV and suitable mobility equipment towards his latter years. He died almost two years ago aged 79. Below is a photo taken a few moths before he passed away. His life was not wonderful but he was given good care.

Frank could easily have ended up like the poor boy from Coober Pedy, James Gargasoulas now in jail. He killed six innocent people. It could have been avoided!

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15 Responses to “Schizophrenia; Care or jail-time?”

  1. catterel Says:

    Not only Australia, alas – but you down under folks do seem to have an awful lot of very serious issues that mar and scar your potentially wonderful country.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Master of Something Yet Says:

    Gerard, thank you so much for your personal story related to this terrible event. I just watched the program today and it seemed unbelievable he was still on the streets that day. But I can’t help thinking that in trying to do the right thing (or undo the wrong things), we’ve swung too much the other way and aren’t doing enough to address these issues, particularly in terms of mental health, and I don’t believe the people involved are to blame but the system. I’m so glad your brother was able to find a peaceful life in Holland. I do wish our politicians would look to the Europeans for ideas instead of the USA (for anything, really). We’d be in a much better place.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Fortunate for my brother Frank that he kept his Dutch nationality and therefore able to return to Holland together with my parents. This is not an option for most people. Mental health is getting more attention but it takes more that just attention and giving phone numbers to ring when problems arise. The closing down of mental institutions wasn’t followed up with good care for those suffering from mental problems. Instead they ended up in boarding houses without any care.
      Chronic schizophrenia is a baffling disease and unpredictable behaviour is one of its problems.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. berlioz1935 Says:

    A sad story for you and your family. But also a bad story in the way they are treating mentally ill people in Australia. That Four Corner program must have opened wounds for you. I’m not sure the public understands the guilt of the whole community.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, the 4 Corner’s program brought it all back and made me write this piece. Fortunate for Frank he did have his parents with him in Holland and when they passed away some very good people visited him regularly.
      I think the concept of good mental health care is not high on the list of priorities even though the fact that homelessness and mental illness and disease are closely linked. Many mentally ill people end up in jail because there are no other options available. In that sense Australia is a very poor country and that should be pointed out.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    What an important subject, Gerard! Thank you for writing this!
    😦 I’m so very sad for Frank, and all he had to go through. My love to you and your family. I know it was difficult for all of you, too.
    I don’t know many countries that know how to treat/care for those “without a voice”/our mentally ill, emotionally ill, homeless, orphans, refugees, disabled, veterans, etc. 😦 😦 😦
    Often times I see that those people (who are often victims) are not helped properly with love and compassion, BUT THEN if they victimize someone else…society just wants to lock them away or worse. 😦
    I know it’s a very difficult task. But, couldn’t most countries do better than they are currently doing?
    PS…the photo of you two brothers is so sweet. 🙂
    PPS…one of the best book’s I own and have read many times is…His Bright Light: The Story of Nick Traina by Danielle Steel


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Many people with mental issues or breakdowns can get enough help to lead normal lives. Human contact and support is very necessary but often missing in a society that seems to put privacy and individuality above all else and in the process can create isolation.

      Glad you like that picture of me and my brother taken during the times Holland was occupied by Germany. The woman with the dress on the left, is my mother. It is a good picture and seems to belie the situation that we lived without heating, electricity, water and very little food. If we could get enough fuel my dad would heat some water for the occasional bathing of Frank and me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. shoreacres Says:

    Such a touching story about your brother, Gerard. And your concerns for mental health, then and now, are well placed.

    There are some private ventures here designed to help military veterans returning with PTSD, and they’ve been very successful with those who manage to find their way to the programs. If we would devote more resources to those who truly need help, instead of allowing the psychiatric/psychological establishment to keep diagnosing conditions that aren’t abnormal at all, then profiting from their “treatment,” we’d be ahead of the game. (Think of the number of kids diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, when all they’re suffering from is curiosity.)

    There’s obviously a relationship between mental health and the gun violence in this country, too, but diagnosing and treating the individual isn’t enough. We need to take a clear-eyed look at what it is that leads some to pick up a gun to commit violence, while the great majority never would.


    • gerard oosterman Says:

      There has been much research done on schizophrenia with lack of good nutrition during early childhood thought to be one reason of this disorder, Linda.

      In Holland they discovered recently, there was a spike in that disease in children born during 1940-45. Malnutrition in Holland especially in Rotterdam during the last year or so of WW2 was severe. After the war Frank and I were at risk and sent for several period away to ‘children colonies’ specially geared towards re-gaining health and weight.

      At one stage I was sent to Belgium for a few months for the same reason. After returning to my parents they were astonished that I only spoke French. The family in Belgium ate large quantities of cooked mussels every day. I still have a letter sent to my mother saying I had gained weight!

      I was astonished to learn that close to 40% of fallen soldiers during WW1 were victims of flu for which there was no known treatment or vaccine at that time.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. rangewriter Says:

    Your story is, as others have said, very touching–and alarming. Touching in that your family was able to rescue your brother from a bad situation and provide him with the best that could be had. Alarming because mental illness is a terrible disease and seems (anecdotally at least) to be on the rise.

    I worked for a summer in a state mental hospital in 1971. Most of the patients were fairly well looked after. However, electroshock “therapy” was still in use. Straightjackets were available for patients who went off the rails and became violent. The lock up ward for seriously dangerous (murderous) patients was miserable. Most of the patients were heavily medicated. They seemed fine on the outside, but the problem was that once released into the real world, they would stop taking their meds, either because they felt good and in control (yeah, the meds are what make you feel that way, buddy) or because the meds were too expensive or because their lifestyles outside of the hospital were too chaotic for them to remember to take their meds.

    It was around this time that, as part of a shrink-the-government policy by President Reagan, mental hospitals began mainstreaming patients. This, of course, without the necessary out-patient treatment and follow-up. Now, I’m not sure if there are any state-fun mental hospitals in the country. What mental health facilities exist, are mainly very expensive, private operations. Hence, we have a huge problem with homeless and mentally ill people. They exist in a vicious cycle of not remember/affording their meds, losing jobs, losing homes, spiraling into the anger and rage of their madness. It is a sad situation. America seems incapable of dealing with it. The prevalence of guns in this country only serves to escalate the problems.


  7. gerard oosterman Says:

    I remember visiting Frank both in an Australian institution and in Holland. The difference could not be starker. In Holland we would see his treating doctors, were introduced to nursing staff could stay overnight in visiting quarters. Frank was involved in soccer, camping trips, even holidays in France. He has his own income free to spend on whatever he fancied.

    At one stage when Frank was still kept in the Australian Government institution my dad became so furious and overwrought with worry and concern about Frank’s treatment and abuse, he flew out of the door intending to kill the superintendent of that hospital.

    My mother phoned us up and asked us to try and prevent slaughter. After arriving at the hospital we watched dad running through the azalea bushes on his way to the superintendents house. We managed to calm him down and averted murder.

    Years later there was royal commission into the affairs of that hospital, in turned out shocking with all sorts of dreadful things coming to the fore including the deaths of many patients through some snake oil deep-sleep therapy!
    The superintendent ended up committing suicide in a forest soon after that.
    I am not sure things are improving in Australia. There are brochures and phone numbers to ring up, but as far as residential care for those unable to look after themselves, I doubt it. Most end up in jail or living on the streets.

    It is grim.


  8. algernon1 Says:

    Gerard, I watched the 4 corners program too. I wondered why James Gargasoulas was not dealt with under the Mental Health Act, rather than been seen to be fit to stand trial. In the end it was a mentally ill man standing trial in what appeared to be a show trial.

    There are some interesting aspects though, I wonder how much of his schizophrenia is due to his drug use, certainly his monster of a father didn’t help.

    I can’t help but wonder how the car he was driving wasn’t taken out in some way by the police, instead of watching from a safe distance, I can’t understand why the vehicle wasn’t deliberately run into (the Christchurch massacre was stopped doing that) or road spikes not used. I’m at a loss why he was out on bail.

    I fear for anybody having a psychotic episode often in this country. Recently a psychotic man was shot dead by police at Central where the police took all of 20 seconds to assess that he wasn’t mentally ill.

    My experience is that Mental Health facilities, well at least is Sydney aren’t that bad with the odd issue. There are the odd Psychiatrist and Registrar I think need weeding out.

    I think with mental health its a lottery who your family is, a supportive one will help manage through the issue, another ho hasn’t will often struggle.

    A psychologist once told me that you could have one on every street corner and it wouldn’t be enough. Mental health is a huge issue and generally poorly understood until it affects someone or someone in their family.


  9. gerard oosterman Says:

    I don’t know if drug use causes schizophrenia or does schizophrenia lead to drug use. My brother Frank loved his cigarettes and never gave them up, not even in his care home where he used to have to go outside to smoke, summer or winter.
    It was puzzling that Frank’s behaviour became so unpredictable, yet very capable of rational actions as well. His unpredictability stayed with him to the end and could lash out at any moment.
    I don’t know if the care in Australia has much improved. Many of lethal murder cases often are committed and accompanied by bizarre people seemingly creating mayhem without reason and often with a well known history of violence. They fall through the nets and end up in jail.

    Thank you, Algy for your well thought out piece.


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