NT regulation pupil’s loss of life avoidable: mother and father

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Two Darwin doctors have been criticised at a coronial inquest over the care they provided to a severely depressed 19-year-old woman who was studying law and later died.

Sabrina Di Lembo had won two scholarships and was achieving high marks at university but began suffering depression and anxiety including regular daily panic attacks ahead of her exams in May 2017.

She took her own life the night before she was due to go to the Darwin Cup with friends in August, last year.

Questions were raised at her inquest about why she was not referred by two GPs to a psychiatrist when she did not improve and began having “suicidal ideation”.

There were issues about whether the medical care and treatment of Sabrina by her medical providers was appropriate and the co-ordination between GPs and psychologists, counsel assisting the coroner Kelvin Currie said.

A Medicare mental health care plan was not written for her, despite her emotional issues, which entitles patients to rebates for expensive psychological treatment.

Communication between a psychologist she saw and her doctors was limited and only via email.

Dr Kara Britz from the Tristar Clinic in Darwin did not take any notes or get Ms Di Lembo to fill out a health department psychological assessment, telling the inquest she preferred a more “informal approach” with patients than “ticking boxes”.

She prescribed 37.5mg of the antidepressant efexor, which was half the standard amount.

Her colleague Dr Bernard Westley discouraged Ms Di Lembo from seeing a specialist or that it would help, telling her parents that “if you have got $700 an hour I can give you the name of a psychiatrist in Palmerston”.

He agreed with counsel assisting the coroner Kelvin Currie, who suggested using that language to a young woman suffering from mental health issues was wrong.

When Ms Di Lembo took herself off her medication, Dr Westley did not tell her to start taking it again despite it being recommended that patients wean themselves off antidepressants.

“She was engaging resources, appeared stable, had protective, supportive mechanisms in place and a clear treatment plan,” Dr Westley said, when asked why he deemed her case not urgent.

The death of Sabrina should have been avoided and there were gaps in mental health services in the Northern Territory, her parents Lidia and Michael said.

“Sabrina was just a normal 19-year-old girl just striving to do well in life,” Mrs Di Lembo said.”

She was very happy to be such a high achiever, we were so proud of her … what happened to her was out of the blue, it really just rocked her world and turned our world upside down as well with what happened in the end.”

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