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This is an article I have just written to send to the Wanganui Chronicle. It is about Amanda, but may be of wider interest.

I apologise for the lack of posts over the last few days. Things have been pretty intense here.

Thanks for your support.

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Just after 5pm on Thursday 29th January, my beloved sister Amanda jumped from a fourth floor fire escape in a building at the Wanganui Hospital.

She broke her spine in two places, fractured ribs and pelvis, tore her liver, ruptured her spleen, and may have permanent brain damage.

A few weeks before, in consultation with her own psychiatrist, she had checked herself into Terror Fina, sorry, Te Awhina. She did this so she could be in a safe and helping place to come off a complex and ineffective mess of medications that had been prescribed to help her cope with depression.

A safe and helping place! What should have been a routine process of care and support for an intelligent and capable young woman turned into a nightmare of….

No, wait. Instead of talking about Terror Fina, let me talk about residential pysch units in general.

Anyone who has seen the film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ or read the book, would have been horrified by that portrayal of the vindictive, bullying manipulation of people lost in a vicious system and unable to speak for themselves.

Psychiatrists and mental health workers have enormous power over their clients. In my experience, people drawn to those professions are equally divided between those who genuinely wish to help people in distress, and those who see that distress as an opportunity.

In every psych unit there are psychiatrists and other staff who expect instant and unquestioning compliance. Anything else is a challenge to their authority, is taken personally, and considered behaviour which must be punished.

These ‘therapists’ use a variety of techniques to maintain their power over clients who are not appropriately deferential, or if the therapist is male, female clients who do not find them sufficiently attractive. Clients may be told they have a personality disorder. They may be made promises about treatment or other processes which staff have no intention of keeping. Their medication may be increased till they are effectively zombified, they may isolated, belittled, or bullied in other ways.

People who are treated in this way are significantly more likely to self-harm or to commit suicide.

When this happens, the therapist’s first priority will be to come up with a story that casts him in a positive light, while destroying the credibility of the client. The client’s alleged personality disorder will be emphasised, she will be described as erratic, high risk, or ‘treatment resistant.’ It may be claimed that she had a plan, that she self-harmed or committed suicide deliberately to embarrass the therapist. So even after death or serious injury the client’s pain and loneliness and suffering count for nothing. According to the therapist, he is the victim, he is the one who has been inconvenienced. It’s all about him.

The therapist’s behaviour is typical of people who are sociopathic or narcissistic. It is not the client who has a personality disorder.

Let’s imagine that on the morning of the 29th of January a meeting is held at a psych unit somewhere in New Zealand. We need to call this meeting something, so I’ll call it a Malevolently Dysfunctional Team meeting, or MDT for short. Ruling over this particular MDT is a Dr Bastaard. There’s no such person of course.

There is a client at the meeting. She is an intelligent and capable young woman with good insight into her illness. She is also deeply distressed. She has written down her feelings of loss, of abandonment, of confusion and despair. She reads this to the team. She asks for help. None of them respond. Some of the team members smirk at one another. Dr Bastaard, who has been playing with his laptop computer while she speaks, does not look at her or acknowledge her. The meeting continues as if she did not exist.

Is there anyone at the meeting who should be speaking for the client? Perhaps, but they don’t. Is there anyone at the meeting who has a glimmer of care for the client? Perhaps, but any concern for her welfare is less important to them than the approval of their peers. So no one says anything. No one does anything.

These are mental health professionals. They know her feelings and state of mind – she has just told them. They know the impact and likely outcome of such utter rejection. If any harm comes to her after this meeting, it will not be because of an error in professional judgement, or even because of negligence. This is deliberate and culpable malice.

Imagine that during the day, friends who are concerned for the client ring the psych unit to ask that she be cared for, because she has talked about suicide. Their concerns are dismissed. Imagine that another friend waits for an hour in a psychiatrist’s waiting room, so she can tell him that the client is despairing, in danger. Imagine that just before 5pm another friend rings the psych unit to check on the client and to make sure the staff are aware of her state of mind, that she is being watched carefully, only to be told that staff have no idea where she is.

Just after 5pm on Thursday 29th January, my beloved sister Amanda jumped from a fourth floor fire escape in a building at the Wanganui Hospital.

We intend to seek an enquiry into what happened to Amanda. There are lots of different kinds of enquiries. There’s the kind where staff get together and decide that really when all things are considered, they did OK, and issue a statement like this: We’re very sorry your loved one died because we were watching reruns of the Simpsons instead of doing our jobs. But heck, you know, everyone makes mistakes, these things happen sometimes, and it was probably her fault anyway, so please go away and stop bothering us.

We don’t want that kind of enquiry.

We want an enquiry that will make a difference, not just to Amanda, but to the delivery of Mental Health Services, and perhaps even a broader enquiry into the politics and culture of health care in Wanganui.

We have spoken to previous and current Mental Health Care clients and to former staff. We are gathering material to submit to the media, to the Minister for Health, and to ACC.

If you have a story to tell, please email me, Peter (Amanda’s brother) or write to me at 74 Pitt St, Wanganui, NZ.

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