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Young Aboriginal woman's death in Canberra raises questions over support services

Jess Whaler -

In February a young Aboriginal mother was found dead at Lake Ginninderra in the Australian Capital Territory. Three months later her family and the local Indigenous community are still awaiting answers.

Ngunnawal woman Nikkita Drazevich was a much-loved 32-year-old mother of two who had experienced a number of challenges including psychological and physical health concerns for several years.

Ms Drazevich's cousin Selina Walker told National Indigenous Times that Nikkita was a victim of domestic violence and was seeking refuge in the weeks leading up to her death.

Ms Walker, a well-known advocate within the Canberra community, took to Facebook to share her disappointment with Canberra's health and protective services:

"My cousin… this poor girl asked for help repeatedly from professionals, workers, police and the courts and could not get the right help that she needed to protect herself," she wrote.

Ms Drazevich's childhood was marred by domestic violence which resulted in being raised by her grandparents. Ms Walker advised that following the birth of her cousin's first child, Nikkita again encountered domestic violence, resulting in the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Adding to the psychological trauma Ms Drazevich was experiencing, her physical health suffered and she was heavily impacted by symptoms of respiratory issues and heart disease, both of which are overly prevalent within Indigenous communities.

In the years leading up to her death, Ms Drazevich experienced a major health scare and whilst in hospital, Ms Walker told National Indigenous Times, doctors had advised there was nothing they could do to further help her. Ms Drazevich then worked to change her lifestyle and sought help by accessing Canberra's mental health and domestic violence services.

Ms Walker advised that on one occasion, Nikkita was experiencing psychosis and attempted to admit herself into the Mental Health Clinic at Canberra Hospital. After failing to be seen for an extensive period, she exited the hospital and intentionally overdosed. According to Ms Walker, there were times when her cousin was successful in seeking help within the Mental Health Unit but would then be discharged for "little things, like her attitude" despite the family's efforts to get her re-admitted.

ACT Health Services told National Indigenous Times: "We do not evict any consumers from our mental health facilities."

"Consumers who are discharged from wards/units have been assessed by a doctor that it is medically safe and appropriate for the person to be discharged. No person is turned away from our mental health facilities, if they have been assessed as requiring an admission," they said.

ACT Deputy Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson has been critical of Mental Health Minister Emma Davidson.

"Under this Minister we have seen the Dhulwa Mental Health Unit become unsafe for nurses and patients, requiring WorkSafe ACT to step in; no clarity on the death of a patient in a mental health facility; a report highlighting dysfunction and a toxic environment within her own office and now a serious breach of patient records," Mr Hanson said.

Ms Walker said she is tired and fed up with the failings of Canberra's services that are designed to protect and help.

"The fact is that her death was preventable, if services that are funded well had of done their job right, they could have prevented this."

She further stressed that Ms Drazevich had made countless efforts to escape the cycle of domestic violence by talking to different organisations and reporting that the violence was happening.

Ms Walker said her cousin's family experienced lengthy delays when attempting to implement an emergency action order, but once they did their hopes were short lived.

"We had made out a detailed mental health plan and none of that information transferred to the right area and then they discharged her four days later without consulting family. A few days later she was back in hospital all beaten up."

Ms Walker said Nikkita was discharged without a family member who had been involved with the planning of the emergency action order, and questioned the hospital's screening process for visitors.

The ACT Health Services spokesperson said "depending on the inpatient mental health unit, there are different visitor and security requirements".

"For example, in our Adult Mental Health Unit, there is no remit to refuse entry to a person visiting a consumer unless advised by ACT Policing that specific persons are restricted from contacting or visiting a consumer, or the consumer advises staff that they do not want a specific person to visit and provide a description. Staff will make every effort to ensure that the wishes of consumers in our care are respected and that their right to privacy is maintained," they said.

Ms Walker alleged that the family's experience with the justice system so far had been incompetent and culturally insensitive.

"The police never once offered coronial counselling, they have not offered any support to family. The lead detective went on leave for two weeks and no one told us, we were calling, and no one was answering. It feels like her life doesn't matter. To us, it feels like they don't care," she said.

Ms Walker said the location where Ms Drazevich's body was found, would have been an unlikely place for her to go by herself because she was afraid and living in fear.

ACT Police told National Indigenous Times that the ACT Coroner's investigation into the death of Nikkita Drazevich has not yet been completed and were unable to provide further information.

A spokesperson from the ACT Coroner advised that they are following further avenues of inquiry and that the Australian Federal Police are acting on behalf of the coroner.

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