Tuesday, 8 January 2013

women and psychiatric treatment, the madness of it

Murray Royal Hospital buildings
I've been bothered about the treatment of women in the psychiatric system since 1970 and seeing my mother in Murray Royal Hospital, Perth, in a locked ward.  And I knew before this that something was far wrong with psychiatry because my mother never wanted to go in to the mental hospital when she was mentally distressed or having a nervous breakdown.

I visited her, aged 17, for the first time going up to what used to be the Murray Royal Lunatic Asylum, over the bridge and up the hill, situated in a rural setting although not far from the town of Perth.  I remember the visits as being distressing, for both of us, I often came away crying.  She didn't want to be in there although she wasn't well and couldn't be at home.  I didn't want her to be in there but there was no other option.  An impossible situation.

She was in the Kinnoull Ward, all females with a variety of reasons for being there.  One woman had killed her child, this I remember because my mother kept going on about it and it stressed her out, to be in the same ward as this other woman.  There was a lot of pain in this ward and the treatment consisted of psychiatric drugs, ECT and locking the women in.  Until they had conformed or calmed down and could be let out again.

The madness of the women alongside the madness of psychiatry.  The former made more sense than the latter.  I remember meeting with psychiatrists, men, who said I had an old head on young shoulders.  It sounded like a compliment but I was sceptical of them and their system.  Thinking I would never darken their doors as a patient.  Not out of choice anyway.  

There has to be a paradigm shift in psychiatric treatment for the sake of the women, in my opinion.  And then everyone else will benefit.  For women are the mothers and grandmothers in society.  The men wouldn't exist without them and us.  The use of force in psychiatry against women is and should be unacceptable.  Forcing women to have ECT or psychiatric drugs isn't the way to go.  Men are you listening?  

Equal rights for women doesn't mean we agree with compulsory treatment or paternalistic decision making.  Women are different from men.  I am one of three sisters but gave birth to three sons, now men.  There's a difference.  Here's one.  I go to the cinema with my youngest son sometimes, not often, because there aren't many films we both could watch together.  He prefers to go with his male friends, I prefer to go on my own.  We both like action movies but I'm not so keen on the shooting and killing, the blood and guts all over the place.  He doesn't mind.  I have to close my eyes at these bits.  

My sons and I have all been through the psychiatric system.  I feel strongly against the use of compulsion, force, psychiatric drugging and the taking away of my decision making abilities.  They're not as bothered as I am about this.  Or they don't seem to be.  It's not a big issue with them, they can get over the restraint, seclusion and forced treatment done to them (although not if it was perpetrated against me or other women in their family).  I think these actions are barbaric and demonstrate system failure.

Now I'm an activist and campaigner, always have been in different settings, a resistance fighter you might say, standing against bullying and intimidation.  But this has very seldom ever been about physical contact or actual fisticuffs.  Although there is always the threat and the possibility when people invade boundaries.  It's happened with me often in psychiatric treatment and once or twice in real life, in 60 years. 

So here's the challenge, as I see it.  How to help women in their madness without using force or compulsion, and in the doing of it to bring about a transformation to the psychiatric system which is long overdue.  I believe that the treatment of women in psychiatry is key to a just society both inside and outside the asylum.


  1. I wonder what kind of reason stands behind treating women differently than men when they have mental health problems. Why is it so?

    1. I actually think that women are treated the same as men and this is the problem. Women are not the same as men, obviously. And in psychiatric treatment the women should be very carefully treated. Everyone's rights should be protected but women should be given their place.

  2. When my son ended up in a psychiatric unit, he was just as shocked as anyone by the way he was treated. Nobody listened to him. He had absolutely no say in what happened to him. It took him 4 years to get over it and he says that he would rather kill himself than ask a psychiatrist for help again. We were both shocked by their ignorance and their refusal to listen to common-sense as well as the power they had over their patients. They had been taught one thing and were totally incapable of thinking out of the box.