Sunday, July 21, 2019

No accident that disabled youth are trapped in nursing homes

Louisa L               21 July 2019

The National Disability Insurance Scheme has left thousands of severely disabled young people to rot in nursing homes. According to the ABC’s Norman Hermant and Lorretta Florance, only one per cent of them have NDIS accommodation plans.

It’s the entirely predictable result of a privatised, for-profit system. But brief outrage is likely to sink into the sewer that parades as a 24-hour news cycle, particularly since only the ABC has thought it fit to report on it in the last three months.

In the last 30 years, hard-won social services to people in need have been systematically undermined bit by bit. The disabled, especially the mentally ill, were the earliest targets.

In NSW, the 1983 Richmond Report into abuse in psychiatric hospitals was triggered by outrage about deep sleep “therapy” at the private Chelmsford Hospital. The so-called treatment had no scientific basis and caused long-term brain trauma. Deep sedation kept patients unconscious, sometimes for months on end.

Wider struggle

For two decades struggle had also risen against a wider system which was easy to get into and often impossible to get out of. Women particularly could find themselves scheduled for life in psychiatric hospitals on the say so of their husbands and a male doctor.

It tied in with the jailing of young people, particularly girls who were often incest victims, as “uncontrollable”.

Patients were subjected to brutalisation against their will in some psychiatric hospitals, using ECT*, electro-convulsive “therapy”, and even lobotomies where sections of the brain were removed. As well, chemical cocktails left patients compliant because they were too drugged to speak up. All this added to community demands that something be done.

The Richmond Report recommended moving most psychiatric patients into the community.

Loyal corporate servants, Labor and Liberal, immediately saw dollar signs.

Psychiatric hospitals were often set in huge sites in prime waterfront land, providing a beautiful environment where recovery was aided. Both Gladesville and Callan Park Psychiatric Hospitals were closed, but remain in public hands only through decades of intermittent struggle.

But expensive to run public psychiatric hospitals are, like the dodo, extinct.

Past tipping point

So, what does “community” care mean? In NSW almost the only inpatient public psychiatric services available are attached to Emergency Departments. They are noisy, brightly lit, bare and locked, reminiscent of prison cells. They are unfit for purpose and offer only very short-term treatment. How can anyone recover in such places? According to the SMH’s Kate Arbusson, two of Australia’s leading psychiatrists, UNSW’s Scientia Professors of Psychiatry Henry Brodaty and Gordon Parker, the latter a founder of the Black Dog Institute, spoke out, saying the system had “passed tipping point”, that many experienced psychiatrists were about to resign, no longer able or prepared to put up with their inability to treat people or find them places to live or be treated.

Professor Parker also stated that in NSW 60 positions for trainee psychiatrists are vacant, despite oversupplies in other medical specialities.

Public long-term residential rehabilitation is almost non-existent. Community housing is in crisis.

Murder by neglect

Mentally ill people and those who care for them deserve far better!

They are disproportionately likely to be homeless or in prison.

For family members, especially parents, these options are unacceptable. They usually look after their sons and daughters as adults. The toll is huge. Few retain happy relationships with their offspring.

Then there are so-called murders of family members by their mentally ill adult children.

It is murder, but the mentally ill person is not to blame. Capitalism is the gangster and politicians its hitmen. Their actions and inaction cause the deaths.
In the case of the NDIS, some people with disabilities are killed by failure to appropriately support them. Hermant and Florance state, “The most common way for young people to leave an aged care facility is by dying”. Their article makes clear that isolation, inappropriate placement and lack of proper care are responsible for rapid deterioration by many young people in nursing homes.

The corporate media’s silence is deafening.


* Today ECT is used much more selectively and carefully to treat a range of psychiatric illnesses. It is currently used only with patient consent, except in cases of extreme psychosis where family consent is required. Failure to provide proper treatment or accommodation ensures mental illnesses deteriorate dramatically, probably making such forced intervention more likely.

Photograph of a building at the former Callan Park Psychiatric Hospital: By JWC Adams,

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