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The mother of a Dunedin woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder jailed for abusing her says her daughter is no criminal.

"This thing inside her has taken over," Patricia Cumming said.

She took aim at "shocking" mental health services.


Anita Cumming, 39, had managed the disorder for many years but recently had struggled, her mother said.

She formerly ran her own drama school, put on countless plays and even had a couple of bit-part roles in TV show Shortland Street.

On Tuesday, though, she was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment when she appeared at the Dunedin District Court on three charges of breaching a protection order.

Over a three-day span in February, Anita Cumming woke her 71-year-old mother repeatedly at night, screaming at her and forcing her mother to clean to her meticulous standards.

Patricia Cumming got a total of six hours of sleep during the period.

There was further unpermitted contact with the victim in April.

It all came while Anita Cumming was serving a sentence of intensive supervision for an episode in August when she became furious about blueberries her mother had bought and then hit her with a bottle.

In court, Anita Cumming howled throughout the sentencing hearing, repeatedly screaming at her mother, who was sitting in the public gallery.


Judge Michael Turner repeatedly asked her to restrain herself, but she had to be carried out by Corrections guards and put in an adjacent courtroom and was beamed in by audio-visual link (on mute) so sentencing could take place unheeded.

It was a "fear of contamination" that had caused her daughter to lash out, Patricia Cumming said.

"She's not a criminal ... She's got a severe problem."

Anita Cumming's lawyer said there weren't enough options aside from jail for dealing with people like Anita Cumming.

"It's a general problem that I'm experiencing with a number of people traversing through our criminal justice system, who have mental health issues," Marie Taylor-Cyphers told Radio NZ.

She said the threshold for proving that these defendants should be treated differently was too high.

A drug and alcohol court being run as a pilot programme in Waitakere in Auckland seemed to be working and something similar could be considered for those with mental illness, Taylor-Cyphers said.

Police also had some discretion not to prosecute people in instances where there was a mental illness.

But Taylor-Ciphers acknowledged current legislation made it difficult for police to push ahead with prosecutions.

Despite the recent turbulent years, Patricia Cumming stood by her daughter and would continue to offer her unwavering love and support.

"She's a fantastic daughter. She's such a soft, caring person."

She said Anita Cumming's decline could be attributed to her treatment through the mental health system.

"She's in the too-hard basket."

While on bail at Dunedin's inpatient mental health service Wakari Hospital, Anita Cumming was in a ward where the insanitary conditions drove her to leave.

"There was faeces on the floor and blood on the wall."

Her daughter would sneak from the grounds and get a taxi home where she would shower and temporarily alleviate her anxiety.

Patricia Cumming admitted to being "an accomplice" in these secret missions. She said she begged hospital bosses to move her daughter to another ward but they declined.

Eventually the defendant was caught leaving the facility and sent to Christchurch Women's Prison.

A Southern District Health Board spokeswoman said it was unable to comment on specific patients.

It is likely Anita Cumming will be out of prison in about October but then the issue of her treatment and living arrangements will resurface.

As a sickness beneficiary with convictions to her name, it would be near impossible to find a rental; and she was barred from living at the family home, Patricia Cumming said.

Taylor-Cyphers said it was critical Anita Cumming was supported on her release.

"I think we're in for a life of recidivism if we don't get it right now."

Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald said OCD had two parts, the obsession on things on which people became fixated to manage distress and the loop of repetition, the compulsion.

"It's unhelpful because it comes to dominate and it's unhelpful because it is quite rigid."

What is OCD?

• Obsessions are repetitive and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses that cause anxiety and are hard to stop.

• Compulsions are repeated actions or behaviours that a person feels driven to do, even though they know they are unnecessary or don't make sense.

• Typically OCD starts gradually and can be a minor irritation for years, eventually getting to the point where symptoms can no longer be denied.

• OCD usually starts during childhood or in teenage years. Most people are diagnosed by about age 19. Symptoms of OCD may come and go and be better or worse at different times.

• The exact cause of OCD is unknown but there is strong evidence it has a physical cause in the brain, where the parts of the brain responsible for starting and stopping thoughts and actions and responding to new information do not work properly.

Source: Mental Health Foundation