CEO of Ermha Karenza Louis-Smith has announced services in Darwin, launching at the Fannie Bay Gaol today, Thursday 4 April.

Mental illness and cognitive disability services company Ermha will offer its range of support systems to the Territory’s most challenging and complex clients with severe mental illness. Ermha has a long history providing community support services to people living with mental disorders and psychiatric disabilities. The organisation will be one of the first of its kind in the Territory, offering tailored services to those suffering severe mental crisis,including those at higher risk of incarceration due to their social circumstances and lack of proper and personalised care.

People with mental disorders and psychiatric disabilities are over represented in prisons across Australia. They are at multiple disadvantage due to the nature and severity of their mental illness, disability status, persistent criminal offending behaviours, trauma background, and social isolation in addition to inadequate access to proper treatment. People in these groups are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, and be homeless, marginally housed or living for lengthy periods in hospital wards because there is nowhere else for them to go.

People with disabilities, particularly a cognitive or psychosocial disability, represent 18 per cent of the country’s population, but almost 50 per cent of people entering prison. Rates of the major mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and depression, are between three and five times higher in offender populations than those expected in the general community. Up to eight per cent of males and 14 per cent of females in Australian prisons have a major mental disorder with psychotic features.

“Ermha is passionate about breaking this cycle and our work shines a spotlight on this challenge,” Louis-Smith said. “Don’t build more prisons, they cost too much! Instead we work in partnership with Government agencies and the community to build meaningful lives for people who would otherwise find themselves in prison or hospital because there is nowhere else to go. We create new opportunities and environments so people have the opportunity to thrive.”

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