Witness relives torment as psychiatric patient

By Martin Johnston

When Margaret Parry told her story to the Government forum for former psychiatric patients, her bad hospital memories surged back: the electric shocks, the assaults, the sexual abuse.

Now that she has spoken to the Confidential Forum for Former Psychiatric In-patients, she is ambivalent about its value.

"It brought up all those bad memories. It wasn't very nice for a while, but it was good being able to talk about it to those three people [the panel]."

"Because it brings it out in the open, the public will know what happened - and what happens today. It might help some people to talk about it and get it off their minds a little bit. It doesn't help me. I can't forget it. It affects everything I do."

Now 69 and living in Hamilton, Ms Parry was in and out of Porirua psychiatric hospital near Wellington over five years in the 1950s, when aged 18 to 23. She was first admitted after her mother took her to a psychiatrist because "I was troubled at home".

"It was the worst time in my life. I thought I was going to die."

Ms Parry said she was given electric convulsive therapy (ECT) without anaesthetic or muscle-relaxant drugs.

Nurses often hit, slapped and punched her and twisted her arm up her back.

"I was sexually abused by the nurses, two of them ... they hit me with a shoe on my bare bottom. A judge ruled it was sexual abuse 10 years ago [overturning an ACC ruling] and I get a little bit each month, an independence allowance."

Ms Parry is among more than 120 people, mostly former patients, to have spoken to the forum since its hearings began last June.

Some staff and family members of former patients have also been heard.

The forum's chairman, former judge Anand Satyanand, said in a report to ministers in December that many had described their fears as in-patients. They told of extensive use of ECT, deep-sleep therapy, seclusion and heavy medication regimes.

They alleged beatings, indecent assault and sexual violation by staff.

Twenty-one had been referred for counselling and others had been referred to the police or ACC.


* Hundreds of former patients have alleged they were abused at psychiatric hospitals, including Oakley, Tokanui and Porirua.

* 130 have filed High Court law suits against the Crown and 100 other cases are being prepared.

* They want compensation and damages of up to $550,000 each.

* Their lawyers wanted an official inquiry, but the Government instead set up a confidential listening forum for patients from up to November 1992.

* By mid-December last year, 363 people had asked to meet the forum.

* 126 had been heard and further hearings were planned.

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