Citizens Commission on Human Rights

The Mental Health Watchdog

Australian National Office

Suffering Caused by Seclusion Never Ceases

Catherine Jones, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 June 2013Sad Female on BeachCatherine Jones’ experience of seclusion as a mental health inpatient suggests the practice is far from benign.

The United Nations brands it torture and an abuse of human rights. The National Mental Health Commission wants it phased out entirely. The NSW Mental Health Commission wants to see its use radically curtailed or even eliminated. Ethical psychiatrists are repulsed by it.

If I had my way, it would be made illegal and its perpetrators charged with criminal assault and de-registered by their respective professional bodies.

I have regular nightmares about it. I wake at 5am, rigid, in a cold sweat and  feeling sick to the stomach.

It is “seclusion” and while it sounds benign, it is anything but.

Seclusion, to me, is the act of restraining, sometimes aggressively, another human being before locking them in a tiny, bare cell, with nothing but a  mattress on the floor, usually for hours on end. In the worst instances, not only are victims confined in these cage-like cells, but shackled there as well, like animals.

The shackling is called “restraint”, another Orwellian term that our public mental health system is so adept at inventing, like “primary carer” in place of next-of-kin and “consumer” for those with a mental illness.

As Fairfax Media health editor Amy Corderoy revealed on Sunday, this brutal practice is even happening to our most vulnerable, emotionally disturbed children. That the seclusion rate varies so wildly between psychiatric wards in NSW indicates seclusion is being broadly abused by staff in some public hospitals and not being used for the purpose for which it was allegedly designed.

My experience is part of the statistics.

Last July, when I sought help in a time of need from the local public  psychiatric hospital, all I received was a horrific experience of “seclusion”.

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