11 Jun ‘She just gets written off’: Mother tries to get compulsory car for daughter
The mother of a woman who left a Christchurch psychiatric unit twice in one week is frustrated staff could not keep her daughter at the facility.
Louise Litchfield has tried to get her drug-addicted and mentally unwell 32-year-old daughter compulsory treatment over the past seven years, but says the health system has not supported her.
The 59-year-old is nursing a black eye after her daughter allegedly punched her.
She says it was this act of violence that convinced mental health services to admit Melissa* compulsorily.
“I know the girl that she used to be, and I want that girl back, and I want the opportunity to get her back and I know the only way we can do that is by her being treated against her will.”
In 2017, 5284 people were subject to a compulsory treatment order – a provision of the Mental Health Act which allows for treatment and assessment of people considered “mentally disordered”, against their will.
Last month the Government accepted a recommendation by the Mental Health and Addiction Inquiry panel to repeal and replace the Mental Health Act, which gives mental health services the ability to assess and treat patients against their will.
The panel said the Act too easily sanctioned outdated coercive practices that were not, ultimately, in the patient’s best interests.
On June 1, Litchfield’s daughter Melissa* was arrested for assaulting Litchfield. She was taken to Hillmorton Hospital the following day and admitted under a compulsory treatment order.
She left the hospital twice within 48 hours. Police again found her and took her back to Hillmorton about 8.30pm on Friday.
Litchfield believed her daughter had been living on the streets while she was missing. The compulsory treatment order was extended for 14 days.
Litchfield said diluting the Act and compulsory treatment would relegate patients like Melissa to a life on the streets, or even death.
“No-one has been prepared to go that extra mile for her. She just gets written off.”
Canterbury District Health Board chief of psychiatry Dr Peri Renison said the specialist mental health services’ policy was to manage all patients “in the least restrictive and most compassionate way possible”.
“Most of our inpatient units are open units, meaning people are free to come and go,” Renison said.
Litchfield has previously tried to get her daughter compulsory treatment under the Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Act through the courts, but the judge decided it would be a terrible breach of human rights.
Melissa’s addiction has evolved into extreme anxiety, paranoia and fits of rage, Litchfield said.
She has been trespassed by several people for intimidating, erratic behaviour and property damage, and had to move 13 times since Christmas.
In early May she stayed with Litchfield, who spent 11 days trying to find her alternative accommodation and psychiatric help.
But when mental health workers eventually visited her home Melissa “took off”. She ended up in ED but a doctor let her leave at 3.30am, telling Litchfield there was no reason to keep her there.
“It shouldn’t be so hard trying to get help for a family member,” she said.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Shaun Robinson said the Mental Health Act was not helping the majority of people it served and the organisation supported its replacement.
“The Act allows for coercive practices to be applied to people and in the majority of cases that is a step backwards, not a step forwards.”
Robinson said forcefully treating people against their will was counter-productive as it increased their distress and fear of services.
“Some of the fear people have of services is because they know there is the potential for them to lose their freedom and lose their autonomy because they know they can be sectioned under the Act and have a whole lot of stuff done that they don’t have any control over.”
There were sometimes cases where it was necessary to use a compulsory treatment order though and he would not want that option completely removed from the Act, he said.
* Name has been changed.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
1737, Need to talk? – Free call or text 1737 to talk to a trained counsellor
Depression.org.nz – 0800 111 757 or text 4202
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
What’s Up – 0800 942 8787 (for 5–18 year olds). Phone counselling available Monday-Friday, noon–11pm and weekends, 3pm–11pm. Online chat is available 3pm–10pm daily.
thelowdown.co.nz – Web chat, email chat or free text 5626
Anxiety New Zealand – 0800 ANXIETY (0800 269 4389)
Supporting Families in Mental Illness – 0800 732 825.
Alcohol Drug Helpline – 0800 787 797
If it is an emergency click here to find the number for your local crisis assessment team. In a life-threatening situation call 111.