A man living with alcohol addiction and schizophrenia has been let down by the region's mental health system, a south-west lawyer says.
Ian Pugh told the Warrnambool Magistrates Court that the mental health system had failed a Koroit man who pleaded guilty to three charges, including two counts of shop theft and breaching bail.
Mr Pugh said his client had attended the South West Healthcare (SWH) mental health acute inpatient unit to seek help for his alcohol dependency and schizophrenia.
But the man was refused entry and in a cry for help he resorted to stealing from two supermarkets in order to be locked up, Mr Pugh said.
The court heard the man attended Warrnambool's Swintons IGA about 10am on Thursday and stole a can of beer worth $1.39.
Prosecutor Carolyn Howe said the man sat down in a walk-in fridge of the supermarket bottle shop to drink the beer.
A staff member confronted the man who said: "I can't help it, I need to drink. You can call the police."
Warrnambool police members attended the scene. The man told officers he had been alcohol dependent for 10 years and that he wanted to be locked up as he believed it was the only way he would stop drinking.
The man was charged and released on bail.
Then at 7pm that night he attended the Koroit IGA supermarket where he opened a can of beer worth $2.50 and began drinking it inside the store.
He approached a member of staff, told them he had no money and asked them to call the police.
He was arrested at 7.10pm and remanded overnight. He was sentenced to the one day he had already served in custody.
Mr Pugh said it was unfortunate his client believed the only way he could get help was to deliberately steal.
"This is a real failure of the mental health system," he said.
South West Healthcare community partnerships manager Suzan Morey said the health service was not prepared to comment on individual cases, including those before the courts.
"We are confident in the procedures we have in place to enable access to any person seeking assessment or mental health treatment at South West Healthcare," she said.
Health and Community Services Union assistant state secretary Paul Healey said given the poor funding of mental health and drug and alcohol services across Victoria, the situation was not an isolated one.
"While I acknowledge that the government has made some improvements, it is still very difficult for people to seek treatment when they require it," he said.
"And what is occurring more regularly is people entering the justice system because of their mental health issues and their behaviours due to alcoholism or drug use.
"This man's situation is not uncommon. It is unfortunate circumstances that occur to people when the system is not there to support them when they require help."
Mr Healey, who is a former psychiatric nurse, said only the "most unwell" were accepted into the region's mental health services.
"They all operate at 110 per cent occupancy and unfortunately there just isn't the bed capacity for people to get the treatment they require," he said.
"We used to have 200 beds in Warrnambool and now we have 15. The bed stock and service development is not keeping up with the growth in the area.
"I don't think it's a criticism of the Warrnambool service because they are absolutely doing the best they can with the limited resources they have.
"We need to have more beds so that people can have ready access when they need or are ready for treatment. That includes more drug and alcohol beds and more mental health beds in the area.
"We also need the continuation of the development of community teams to ensure that people can get support and treatment before they go into crisis."
Mr Healey was one of close to 100 people who spoke at the Royal Commission into Victoria's mental health system.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing mental health issues, contact Lifeline: 13 11 14 or Mensline: 1300 789 978.
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