Mental Health Debate: The practice of seclusion in New Zealand hospitals

( Hosted by End Seclusion Now, a campaign group working to bring about a prompt and decisive end to the practice of seclusion.

Photo opportunity:
A panel of experts at the Service User Academia Symposium
University Of Otago, Wellington (Lecture theatre – Level D). Monday 1st December at 2.45pm. Contact person: Jak Wild

The debate – the practice of seclusion.
Seclusion (solitary confinement) continues to be used in New Zealand hospitals. This is despite recommendations by the United Nations for immediate legislation for the elimination of seclusion, as well as an expectation of elimination that is called for in key polices set by the Ministry of Health for each of the 21 District Health Boards.

A panel of experts that includes Mary O’Hagan (international innovator, thinker and writer in mental health recovery and wellbeing) and Dr. Tony Ellis (leading Human Rights Lawyer and frequent media spokesperson on Civil Liberties) will encourage debate on why immediate legislation is required to end the practice of seclusion, with suggestions on how this can be achieved. The debate is to be attended by a host of both national and international academia experts, working from a research and development mental health service user perspective.

A service user perspective of seclusion.
“The United Nations brands it as torture and an abuse of human rights. Ethical psychiatrists are repulsed by it. 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. I will swear until the day I die I did nothing to provoke this assault except be in a place where assaults of this kind are an entrenched and accepted part of the culture. They surrounded me, grabbed me and brutally threw me to the ground before holding me down. One tore off my pants and injected me – with what, I still don’t know – not, as you would expect in the buttock or upper thigh, but the inter-gluteal cleft (my inner buttock).

This assault was followed by three hours locked in seclusion. If that was not traumatising enough, despite increasingly desperate pleas to use a toilet, I was left there until I wet myself. As I sobbed out of humiliation, two nurses involved in the original assault laughed at my distress through the glass observation window of the seclusion cell. This experience had a devastating effect on me. I have regular nightmares about it. I already had post- traumatic stress disorder, now it is worse.

If assaults like this happened in general hospital wards there would be a public outcry. But because they only happen to people with mental illnesses, the broader community has been unaware that these practices occur. Public psychiatric staff use all sorts of justifications for seclusion and restraint: that the mentally ill are a threat, that this inhumane treatment is necessary, and myriad other excuses designed to blame seclusion victims for what I believe is essentially a reprehensible assault inflicted by staff.

I have never seen seclusion used for the purpose for which it is allegedly designed – only as punishment, a means of control and intimidation. Peer-reviewed studies have shown that seclusion events are usually caused by dysfunctional staff who provoke angry or distressed responses in patients. Seclusion and restraint need to be outlawed. The damage these abusive practices are inflicting on already damaged, vulnerable people cannot be understated.

The UN calls them torture for good reason. They are the antithesis of good health care and need to be confined to the dustbin of history”

Media Release on 1 December 2014

Media Contact:
Jak Wild
Phone: 021 888 996