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A Call for Understanding in the Wake of Tragedy

By Vanessa Kenny


I’m going to be the person that most people are going to hate.  I’m going to be the person that is going to call out all the things that came to my mind when I saw the tragedy that unfolded in Westfield Bondi Junction.

Whilst it is an utter tragedy that so many people had their lives changed forever, whether being from physical wounds, the ongoing trauma of witnessing such an unspeakable event, or the people that loved ones have lost and how that will impact on the rest of their lives, I’m going to talk to you about the perpetrator, Joel Cauchi.

As the mother of a 17 year old child with a complex mental health diagnosis, seeing this tragedy unfold across all media platforms, the first thing that came to my mind is that I felt sorry for Cauchi. I felt sorry for Cauchi’s parents. I felt deep pain for the troubled soul behind the chaos.

For me it was a familiar narrative, one akin to the nightmare that this could be our son one day.  One that cuts deep into my heart.  One that no parent should ever have to think or feel, mixed with guilt that the thought had ever crossed your mind.

This thought process has been weighing heavily on my mind ever since.

Should I have thought about the people he killed, wounded both physically and mentally? Yes.  A resounding YES, my heart breaks for everybody who was affected, both directly and indirectly by this tragic event.

However, without even seeing the footage or knowing the background of Cauchi I could tell he was a troubled soul who was suffering with his mental health. He was a person, a human being, somebody’s son, possibly brother, father, or best friend.

Visions of my own child played in my mind like a horror movie.  You see I, like many others, have been fighting a health care system that is not only inadequate, but also set up for failure.

The health system, their executives and our own Ministers like to say that he “fell through the cracks”.  This is not true.  This is a system that is designed to fail.  Designed to push somebody onto another public service so that they do not have to address the issues at hand.

By not helping people with their mental health struggles, it leaves people to fall into a decline where they are not contributing members of society.  These people who do not have anybody to advocate for them or have broken all their bonds with family and friends due to the illness often end up a justice system problem or homeless.  Quite often with a reliance on drugs and alcohol to help quiet the noise in their head.

We have a system that says that people like Cauchi fell through the cracks, however I don’t believe this.  I see a system that is pushing people down into the cracks, creating a gaping chasm that people can’t get out of no matter how hard they try. Parents, children, adults, family members and the community, set up to fail against a stretched healthcare system, with nobody willing to take ownership or responsibility for the “gaps and cracks” identified.

Our family has been advocating and battling a health care system for more than 10 years to get our son the help he needs and the help that he deserves.

However, by pushing back, advocating and questioning the system, the Doctors, the Mental Health Care teams, the Executives, and the Ministers, we have been labelled with statements such as, "we are catastrophising", "our issues are due to incorrect parenting", "this is an anger management issue".

We have been patronised, called difficult and hostile for displaying emotions and asking questions.

We have endured accusations of domestic violence simply because our son needed us to restrain him during neurological episodes, an act necessary to prevent self-harm.  We’ve witnessed the havoc wrought by potent medications, rendering our home unsafe for all.  Like Cauchi’s family we’ve hidden sharp objects, transforming our household into a battleground where safety is a fleeting illusion.

We have been threatened by health professionals of being blacklisted, had medical records locked or redacted, told to make our child homeless or relinquish care for him to live in a group home.

We have been referred to private services that are inaccessible, and un-sustainable.

The collateral damage extends beyond our afflicted child.  It extends to our other vulnerable children subjected to the turmoil of fights and family breakdown. It extends to the community that could be unsafe should an incident occur.  And in the darkest of moments, it affected me to the point where I found myself teetering on the brink of taking my own life.

The fight for those who have a child who has a complex mental health diagnosis that cannot be managed due to a “gap in the system”, is long, it’s hard, its isolating, and it feels like there is never going to be a happy ending.

I know that life is not a fairytale, but I would like to think with early intervention, strong advocates, and accessible resources that all of this could be avoided.

Amidst the despair, I would like to think there's a glimmer of hope—a call to action for greater empathy, for a society that sees beyond the surface and acknowledges the humanity in us all. It's a call to recognize that behind every headline lies a story, a struggle, a life worth fighting for.

In the end, perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is not just the loss of innocent lives, but the failure to address the gaps and cracks, to recognize our shared humanity, to extend compassion to those who need it most. It's a wake-up call for us all to do better, to be better, to create a world where no one is left to suffer in silence.

I ask for a call of understanding and action from those who can make a difference.

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