Man shocked at files about his mental health

By Vomle Springford -
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GRIEVING: Bruce Bithell, with a picture of his late wife Kathy, only found out this year he was almost committed to a mental health unit. PHOTO/VOMLE SPRINGFORD.
GRIEVING: Bruce Bithell, with a picture of his late wife Kathy, only found out this year he was almost committed to a mental health unit. PHOTO/VOMLE SPRINGFORD.

Carterton man Bruce Bithell has been through an extraordinarily tough few years.

He was taking care of his wife, who had Alzheimers, battling cancer and looking after his mother who suffered from dementia.

This year, he was horrified to discover that during this time, he had almost been committed to mental health care.

"The fact that I came so close to being locked away without knowing is really frightening."

The region has a high rate of compulsory treatment orders - forced mental health care - compared to other areas in New Zealand, according to a Ministry of Health report.

The actual numbers were relatively low, said Andrew Curtis-Cody, clinical nurse manager of the Adult Mental Health Team at Wairarapa District Health Board.

He said one reason for the high rate was most patients admitted under a CTO remained under it when discharged from hospital.

Mr Bithell said he was concerned about mental health care services and employees in Wairarapa.

"My concern is after reading about the high rate of treatment and after my own experience, just how qualified are the mental health workers here?"

His wife Kathy, who died in September, and Mr Bithell, had been visited at home by a consultant psychiatrist, who can't be named, during 2007.

The Bithell's local GP at Carterton Medical referred the consultant to assess Kathy's deteriorating health.

Mr Bithell said he had no idea at first that he was also being assessed.

After his wife's death and finishing radiation for a rare form of throat cancer, which is now in remission, he has decided to make a formal complaint to the Health and Disability Commissioner and the Privacy Commissioner.

"His behaviour, demeanour, statements to me and about me to others have not reached ethical or professional levels."

Letters and file notes from Wairarapa DHB that Mr Bithell has been gathering for his complaint, revealed the psychiatrist was proposing to have Mr Bithell committed.

"In essence he does have a delusional disorder," one of the notes said.

Mr Bithell was shocked to read the files.

"I was stressed but I wasn't delusional. "At the time I was responsible for my mother in Carter Court and was looking after my wife with Alzheimers at home."

His wife was diagnosed with the disease in 2006 and it had been coming for a long time, said Mr Bithell.

"It got to the point where I couldn't leave her [Kathy] on her own."

Mr Bithell said during his wife's illness, she revealed some quite shocking secrets to him, which he shared with the psychiatrist during some of the home visits.

"It was like an interrogation for a whole hour.

"He said 'you're mad and it won't be long till I'm locking your wife and you away'."

In one of the letters to Mr Bithell's doctor, the psychiatrist dismissed Mr Bithell's concerns about some of the surgical procedures he was getting for a hernia as delusional.

"We are well served with surgeons but I question how well we are served with the mental health team in this area," said Mr Bithell.

"I don't believe this man should be doing this job with the power he's got."

Mr Bithell was not committed after a second assessment by another psychiatrist.

"There was no imminent risk of serious harm to himself or others, we cannot take this any further," the file notes said.

Mr Bithell believes he could have been forced into care.

"It's quite frightening to think that could have happened to me, I was just horrified."

Mr Bithell said he did not make the complaint straight away as he was trying to get his wife into Kandahar Court to be taken care of.

"I didn't want to rock the boat."

Now, he is ready to stand up, he said.

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