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Solitary Confinement Called Treatment At DHBs

They just call it treatment

A Coalition of Mental Health Consumer Groups say the current debate on solitary confinement in prisons should also focus on “outrageous” seclusion practices in a wide range of New Zealand district health boards.

“It is extraordinary that prison inmates are seeking compensation for time in “solitary confinement” while the same conditions exist in district health boards all over the country,” says Deb Christensen – a spokeswoman for the Coalition representing seven psychiatric “survivor” groups.

It is also somewhat galling that what is called “solitary confinement” in prisons is called “treatment” in mental hospitals,” she says.

“The seclusion we experience is not treatment – it is treatment failure,” she says.

Ms Christensen said issues about compensation for prisoners in solitary confinement should be separated from the human rights issues associated with the barbaric practice itself. “We should not condone human rights abuses for anyone in our country,” she says.

“However it is important to understand that people in mental institutions are still being subjected to traumatizing seclusion practices that are little different from those metered out to the inmates of our jails.”

“Within the past month we’ve heard of a man put in seclusion for five consecutive days. This is an appalling abuse of a person at his most vulnerable. Acute services are supposed to treat people as human beings. Instead they abandon us and leave us in our terror and distress when we are vulnerable, unwell and scared,” she says.

“It is appalling that prisoners who are put in isolation can be compensated, while people who are unlucky enough to be mentally unwell are often treated as criminals by those who are supposed to be caring for them. Seclusion is a humiliating and destructive and New Zealand hospitals should abandon this abusive practice immediately,” she says.

A survey of all District Health Boards conducted by the Ministry of Health in 2000/1 showed that “seclusion was used widely and often”.

Although both service users and clinical staff perceived it as a negative intervention, its use was influenced by “systemic, resourcing, architectural, management and practice constraints.”

The survey found that seclusion varied over time and between DHBs but that all DHBs used it. About 37 per cent of service users said they had experienced time in seclusion. On average people spent up to 50 hours per month in seclusion with monthly hours ranging from 1-600. Most periods in seclusion were between 8-24 hours in duration.

Ms Christensen said research did not support seclusion as a treatment or therapy – it was frequently psychologically damaging to people, engendering feelings of helplessness, punishment and depression as well as feelings of anger, frustration, confusion and fear.

“Seclusion isolates people who are already disconnected from themselves. Real treatment should encourage and support people to connect with themselves and the physical world – not lock them away from it,” she says.

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