The mother of a young Kiwi who died in a Japanese psychiatric ward is travelling to Japan on the first anniversary of his death, continuing her protest against restraining mentally ill patients.

Kelly Savage, 27, died in Yamato City Hospital on May 17 last year, a week after suffering a heart attack and more than two weeks after he was hospitalised for mental health issues.

His family says he was strapped to a bed at his waist and arms for up to 10 days without release.

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His mother, Martha Savage, has spent the year since he died working with Japanese activists on the issue, which was believed to be widespread.

"It's my connection to Kelly still," she said.

"I'm focusing on that, instead of grieving I want to do something about it."

Part of her work included forming the group Alliance Against Physical Restraint in Psychiatric Care with local anti-restraint activists.

The group had so far gathered more than 5300 signatures on a petition to the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare to try to get them to change their laws on mental health care.

"We are going to print it out and bring it in person to the ministry on the anniversary of Kelly's death," Savage said.

"Over 10,000 people in Japan are now being held like Kelly was, tied to their beds. It's just not accepted practice internationally to do that."

She was determined to see the Japanese Government end the practice of prolonged restraint of psychiatric patients.


"I don't want to let it go. I'm putting a lot of energy and I'm going to keep it up until I get results," she said.

"I'm pretty tenacious, I'm a mother tiger and I'm not going to let them do it to other people's children without putting up a fight."

Kelly, centre, with his mum Martha Savage and dad Mike Savage at his graduation from Victoria University of Wellington.
Kelly, centre, with his mum Martha Savage and dad Mike Savage at his graduation from Victoria University of Wellington.

Savage will also be making a half hour presentation to a Japanese press club outlining the changes she wants to see from their Government.

"I think the Japanese have a desire to be part of the rest of the world. They're very high in many aspects of medicine and science, but in this one they're at the bottom.

"So I think it's a shame to them, and I hope that they do feel shamed and they change their practice."

She believed international attention and reporting on her son's case had helped raise awareness of the issue within Japan, where mental illness is stigmatised and families often don't want to talk publicly if their relatives had been mistreated or died in psychiatric care.

Kelly's father Mike Savage has also penned a letter slated to run in the Japan Times on the anniversary of his death, decrying the use of restraints.

Thursday will mark a year since Kelly died and the family will gather in Japan where his brother Pat Savage lives with his wife and two young children to remember their much loved son, brother and uncle.

A year without her youngest son had been hard, and Martha Savage said she had been thinking about Kelly a lot with the anniversary approaching.

"I can look at the calendar and say ok, 'today is the last day he was breathing on his own'. Little things can set you off, songs or whatever.

"It's hard. You never really get over it."