Ex psych patients call for apology

By Tessa Johnstone

Former patients at some of New Zealand's worst psychiatric hospitals have called for the Government to formally acknowledge their ill treatment in the "bins".

Speaking at a screening of documentary Mental Notes in Masterton on Monday night, mental health advocate Anne Helm said no government had been courageous enough to apologise for what happened.

Ms Helm was involved with the Confidential Forum, which heard from more than 400 former inpatients about experiences of physical violence, sexual misconduct and of being dehumanised at institutions such as Seacliff and Lake Alice.

The 2007 report based on the forum's findings, Te Aiotonga, has never been formally acknowledged by the Government, said Ms Helm.

"The time to talk about practices that need to change is now. There's willingness, and there's some great staff. We have to move forward collectively," she said.

Mental Notes director Jim Marbrook, also in Masterton for the screening on Monday night, said although the documentary is about the "bad old days" the legacy of the institutions is still with us.

Mr Marbrook said some of the practices at today's psychiatric units also need to change, such as seclusion and over-medication, and community mental health services in particular need to be better resourced. He agreed with Ms Helm that Te Aiotonga needs to be acknowledged in order for those affected to move on.

He said several cases for compensation had been made, and the Government's response had been to deal with them one by one, offering small amounts of money on the proviso that the amounts are not disclosed.

The Mental Notes screening at Regent 3 on Monday night launched Mental Health Awareness Week events, and included a panel discussion.

Like Minds, Like Mine team member Daniel Real, also on the panel, said it was important for mental health service users to speak up about their experiences.

"People have got the means to have their own voice and to be taken seriously as a human being."


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