Tag Archives: Mental Health

Dangers of Being ‘At Risk’

From Samaritans.org

…Alternative Measures for Suicide Prevention in Prisons

The 2017 report from the Ombudsman investigating the use of physical restraints for prisoners accommodated in At Risk Units (ARUs) has revealed some shocking details about the care of the suicidal in New Zealand prisons. Whilst much of the attention following from the report has understandably focused on the torturous use of tie down beds and wrist restraints, questions remain about the reliance on ARUs in general to accommodate and manage suicidal and self-harming prisoners.

In the last three years more than 700 prisoners have been through these units (McCulloch 2017). In ARUs, prisoners are placed in cells with minimal fixtures, a mattress and an unscreened toilet. In these ‘environments of deprivation’ (Stanley 2017), they are stripped of their usual clothing, given an untearable gown and bedding, and placed under 24-hour camera observation. Interaction with others, including staff, is highly limited.

Corrections protocol states that prisoners in ARUs should ‘have the same opportunities for involvement in prison activities as other prisoners, consistent with maintaining their safety and the safety of others’ (Ombudsman 2017:12). However, the Ombudsman team ‘found no evidence of at-risk prisoners taking part in any form of structured activity or intervention’ (2017:14) or engaging in strategies to manage and address their self-harm or suicidal thoughts. In only one case did ‘at risk’ plans contain referrals to other services such as chaplaincy or social workers. Although a stay in an ARU is supposed to be a temporary measure, in practice prisoners can be accommodated there for several months (National Health Committee 2010).

In other jurisdictions, these ‘strip cells’ as they are often known, have been widely recognised as unsuitable and inhumane accommodation for suicidal prisoners. Continue reading Dangers of Being ‘At Risk’


Dr Bruce Cohen

…Māori Resistance and the Continuance of Colonial Psychiatry in Aotearoa New Zealand

Before the 1950s, Māori were considered a relatively mentally healthy population. However, current statistics show that they are much more likely to experience a ‘mental illness’ and be admitted to psychiatric hospital compared to settler groups. This article, by Bruce Cohen, argues for an understanding of the mental health system as a site of colonial hegemony in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Cohen demonstrates that the increased urbanization of Māori from the 1960s brought about a political consciousness and visibility which frightened Pākehā society. This, in turn, led to a change in general perceptions of the colonized, from being a passive population to an aggressive one.

Between the 1960s and 1980s, colonial psychiatry began to pathologize a politically conscious Māori population – categorizing Māori protest as constituting the ‘symptoms’ of various forms of ‘mental illness’ (particularly psychotic illness) while ignoring social, economic or cultural issues. This psychiatric process of normalizing colonial rule while pathologizing Indigenous resistance has been found in many other sites of colonial authority. In Aotearoa NZ, the outcomes are extremely high rates of psychiatric diagnosis and incarceration of Māori. Continue reading Passive-Aggressive