Mental Distress – Sarah O’Connor

This Letter to the Editor was published in the Dominion Post today, 15 April 2017.

SOC DomPost 15 April

This is a photograph of the Letter to the Editor. The text of the Letter, and the full text of the original letter, are in the post below.

Mental Distress

I was astonished by Children’s safety comes first (April 12) – the layers of stigma and discrimination were breathtaking. No, heartbreaking. In 2017, after decades of anti-discrimination campaigns, we still hear the “not in our backyard” argument. Don’t let those dangerous mental patients out unsupervised.
What’s your solution? Have a bunch of independent experts and patient advocates (good luck with that) to get a new location for the crazy people away from children.  Whereabouts? In a fortress on Somes Island?  Do you want to re-open the old psychiatric asylums, lock ’em up and throw away the key?
What you are proposing sounds to me like segregation. Do you want to teach children that it’s ok to discriminate against people with experience of mental distress, margnialise them and mark them as dangerous?
Mental distress isn’t something that happens to other people with broken brains. It’s a human response to trauma and it can happen to any human. A member of your family perhaps. So ask yourself – where would you want your family member to be if they need extra support? In some secure isolated ward in the back of beyond under lock and key? Or would you want that family member to be treated with respect, dignity and care in a place they can feel supported and not ashamed?  I hope it’s the latter.
Sarah O’Connor
Lyall Bay

The Dominion Post has a word limit of 200 words for Letters to the Editor. This is the original letter:

It was with some astonishment that I read the opinion piece in the paper today – the layers of stigma and discrimination in there were breathtaking. They were also heartbreaking. In the year 2017, after years and years of anti-discrimination campaigns, decades of information and education available freely at the click of a mouse, we are still getting calls for “not in our backyard”- not those dangerous mental patients please. Don’t let them out of a non-secure place without supervision into society, where they can behave in an “intimidating way”. Well, walk into a bay on Courtnenay Place at 3.00 am, you might see some intimidating behaviour too.

I don’t know who wrote this because there was no name attached to the article, and there is a statement about being afraid to speak out and being labelled a “witch hunter”.

You describe the Whitby respite as being like “watching a car crash in slow motion” and that you tried to “warn Pathways” and throughout the piece Pathways are portrayed to have been unwilling to engage with you and be “upfront”. I suspect that by not being upfront you mean that Pathways wouldn’t discuss details with you, which they legally cannot because that is confidential. I find it very hard to believe that an organisation such as Pathways, an organisation that is based on providing support and opportunities to others, would have failed to communicate and engage with you.

I believe they are working very, very hard to address your concerns.

I noted you seem to say there are acceptable “mental illnesses” (like depression), but it’s ok because the respite isn’t for people with depression, (it is, actually). You believe the respite is for the not acceptable “illnesses” like “schizophrenia or “other significant illnessess”.

So what’s your solution? You want a bunch of independent experts (who are these mysterious independent experts by the way?) and patient advocates (good luck with that) to get a new location for the crazy people away from children. But where? In a fortress on Matiu/Somes Island? Do you want to re-open the old psychiatric asylums, lock ’em up and throw away the key?

I get that your concern is risk and you want to protect vulnerable children. I really, really do. So do I.

But what you are proposing sounds to me like segregation. Do you want to teach children that it’s ok to discriminate against people with experience of mental distress? To margnialise them and mark them as scary dangerous people? I know this won’t change your mind. But there is one final thing I would like to say.

Mental distress isn’t something that happens to other people with broken brains. It’s a human response to trauma and quite frankly it can happen to any human being in this world. It could happen to a member of your family. Then you need to ask yourself – where would you want your family member to be in a time where they need extra support? In some secure isolated ward in the back of beyond under lock and key? Or would you want that family member to be treated with respect, dignity and care in a place they can feel supported and not ashamed? I hope it’s the latter. I really, really do.

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