Mental Health

Karl du Fresne on how we have failed our most vulnerable

Ross Douglas Bremner.  via Stuff

Ross Douglas Bremner. via Stuff


Until the 1980s, mentally ill people in New Zealand were mostly looked after in hospitals. Older readers will remember the names of these institutions: Tokanui, Sunnyside, Lake Alice, Porirua and Kingseat, to name a few.

They tended to be drab, depressing places where patients were managed rather than treated. I know this because my brother-in-law, who was schizophrenic, spent years in Porirua. I also once had an opportunity to observe things from the inside when mental health nurses went on strike and I responded to a call for volunteers to help.

It was an imperfect system, but patients had a roof over their heads, three meals a day and a warm bed to sleep in. They had companionship and nurses to ensure they took their medication. Their families didn’t have to fret constantly about whether they were okay. Read more »

Is Youthline really at risk of closing, or is this just the annual fake scare to get donations going?

This seems to come around every year.

A health service for at-risk youth in central Auckland may be forced to shut its doors in the next couple of weeks if it can’t secure more funding.

The Youthline health service has helped hundreds of young people who say they would otherwise have slipped through the cracks.

A teenager who spoke to Newshub didn’t want to be identified, but she wanted to talk about Youthline. She says she doesn’t want to think where she would be without it.

“I would probably be homeless if it wasn’t for this service — a very desperate person probably,” she says.

She went to the primary healthcare clinic when she had nowhere else to go, and it got her health and life on track, like so many other young people.

But unless it can get $50,000, it will close in two weeks, leaving many youth stranded.    Read more »


Photo Of The Day


Ruined kitchen equipment is spread at the now abandoned hospital. (Photo by Marco Secchi/Getty Images)

Ruined kitchen equipment is spread at the now abandoned hospital. (Photo by Marco Secchi/Getty Images)

The Haunting Of Poveglia Island

Things That Go Bump In the Night

It’s been called ‘the Island of madness’, ‘Hell’, ‘the most haunted place on Earth’. Locals have a saying that goes: ‘when an evil man dies, he wakes up in Poveglia’.

Poveglia Island is a secluded little piece of land that even the most macho of Italians stay away from. The final restless place of thousands of diseased, murderous, and insane people, Poveglia is the convergence of everything we know about evil. So what’s the deal with this island of spooky terror?

Back when the bubonic plague ate up most of the world’s population, the Romans had a clever idea to keep the healthiest separated from the sickest. The plagued people were shipped off to Poveglia Island, a small, secluded land mass that floats between Venice and Lido.

There, people lived out the last of their desolate lives together until they died. Since the island already reeked of death, the next time an epidemic came along; barely alive bodies were dumped there and burned in mass graves. In the 1920s, a mental hospital was built to welcome the island’s newest “guests,” or anybody that showed symptoms of any sort of sickness, physical or mental.

Basically, if you had an itch, away you went to Poveglia where you’d sink your feet into the soil half dirt, half human ash. The dark history of Poveglia Island began during the Roman Era when it was used to isolate plague victims from the general population. Centuries later, when the Black Death rolled through Europe it served that purpose again. The dead were dumped into large pits and buried or burned.  As the plague tightened its grip, the population began to panic and those residents showing the slightest sign of sickness were taken from their homes and to the island of Poveglia kicking and screaming and pleading.  They were thrown onto piles of rotting corpses and set ablaze.

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We’ve created a generation where 10% start off mentally ill

semicolon tattoos social

There is only one acceptable view when it comes to mental health issues, these days. And it involves a sympathetic face and blaming someone, usually the government.

I don’t have the former in my repertoire and love the words personal accountability, so I find myself unable to go along with the prevailing consensus.

Listening to Kate Middleton support Children’s Mental Health Week, I am with her all the way. Kids do need to develop resilience in order to overcome life’s hurdles and cope with challenges they face.

Clearly there are genuine cases of family trauma and mistreatment. And these children deserve all the support the state can afford.

But when we are told 1 in 5 children under 11 has experienced mental health issues and 10% of children aged 5-16 have a recognised mental health disorder I can’t help but feel sceptical.

These days everything has to have a label. Normal emotional reactions end up being disorders and a child who doesn’t like being told what to do by teacher is diagnosed with Pathological Demand Avoidance. If you’ve got PDA you can stick two fingers up at teacher and still get Golden Time for not physically assaulting her. Now that’s progress.

This adds to the article the other day that saying that fewer children were getting hurt these days.   We lock them up, mollycoddle them, and then give them neatly packaged labels to excuse poor behaviour.  Read more »

Photo Of The Day

Christine Chubbuck.

Christine Chubbuck.


Even if a person might look all right in the outside, we might never know what they may be dealing with on the inside.

29-year-old Christine Chubbuck didn’t leave behind a note. Instead, she staged a grand and memorable performance. Looking healthy, well-groomed, and in good spirits the morning of July 15, 1974, the newswoman geared up for a special presentation. “She was in a much better than normal mood. To this day, her enthusiasm puzzles me,” news director Gordan Galbraith said of her demeanor that morning.

Christine asked to change things up a bit for that morning’s broadcast of Sarasota, FL’s WXLT-TV’s Suncoast Digest. She wanted to start the normally unscripted talk show with some news reports, and spent the few minutes before air-time typing up what she was going to say on-air.

She started off with some standard news item, but when it came time to roll footage of a local shoot-out from the night before, a shot she specifically requested, the film stalled. The person operating the camera panicked a bit, but this was all a part of Christine’s plan. She looked into the camera with a determined eye.

“In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts and in living colour, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide,” she read, inflicting a little sarcasm into her tone.

Then she pulled a gun out of a bag of puppets she had at her feet and shot herself on live television.

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Job well done on dealing with bad teachers, now what about proactively tracking down the pedos?

Looks like the Education Council is working well.

Nearly 100 mentally-ill teachers have been investigated by their professional watchdog for misconduct or incompetence in the past six years.

It included incidences of aggressive, violent or threatening behaviour toward children, drug and alcohol use at work, theft, bullying, harassment and falsifying grades, according to information released to Fairfax under the Official Information Act.

Since 2009, 99 teachers referred for investigation by the Education Council over concerns about their practice were found to have a range of disorders, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or addiction, post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome.    Read more »

Another suicide on Corrections watch


ANOTHER INMATE has been found dead at maximum-security Paremoremo Prison – and again it’s on Corrections’ watch.

Just months after taking over the management of Mt Eden Corrections Facility from private company Serco following allegations of prisoner mistreatment, Corrections is now facing questions of its own after the suicide of another inmate at one of the prisons it runs.

The death is another black mark against the prison service, and further evidence that more needs to be done in the field of suicide prevention not only in private prisons but also in state-run ones as well.

In this latest case, a Paremoremo inmate committed suicide on Monday after swallowing a watch battery.

Three weeks ago the inmate had slit his wrists and was taken to the prison hospital.

A source said Corrections had refused to clean all the blood from the man’s cell for over a week, claiming it was a ‘crime scene’.

“We had to look at it and smell it,” the source said.

“Corrections were clearly on notice of the guy’s high suicide risk. How much longer will these preventable deaths continue in New Zealand prisons?”

It was only six weeks go that prison guards found a member of the Headhunters gang dead in his cell on the top of Paremoremo’s B block landing.

Prison sources say the man had hung himself.

Over the past five financial years there have been 88 suicide attempts behind bars.

Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison had the worst record, registering 13 suicide attempts over the five years. That was followed by 11 suicide attempts at Auckland Prison, and eight each at Christchurch Men’s Prison, Christchurch Women’s Prison and Waikeria Prison.

Only four facilities registered zero suicide attempts – Invercargill Prison, Rolleston Prison, Tongariro/Rangipo Prison and Wellington Prison.

There were five suicide attempts at the Mt Eden Corrections Facility.

In a recent interview, Corrections National Commissioner Jeremy Lightfoot claimed the department was doing everything it could to stop inmates from killing themselves behind bars.

He said the department was committed to preventing suicide in prison, but noted prisoners had a high risk of mental health disorders which made dealing with the problem a challenge.

‘In order to understand and address a prisoner’s medical condition, we conduct health screenings when a prisoner is received into prison and when they are transferred into prisons,” he said.

But he conceded Corrections would never be able to completely prevent suicides.

“Despite our efforts to reduce suicide and self-harm in prison it is incredibly difficult to stop someone who is determined to harm themselves.”

Over the past five years there have been 35 unnatural deaths in custody, which include murders and suicides. The deaths were spread among 14 prisons.

The only facilities not to record any unnatural deaths for the period were Arohata Prison, Auckland Region Women’s Prison, Rolleston Prison and Tongariro/Rangipo Prison.

Seven out of the 35 deaths – or 20 percent – were at Christchurch Men’s Prison. There were five deaths at Rimutaka Prison, and three each at Auckland Prison, Northland Region Corrections Facility, Waikeria Prison and Whanganui Prison.

Despite recent public concerns about the Mt Eden Corrections Facility, there has only been one unnatural death registered there since Serco took over management.


cookStephen Cook is a multi award winning journalist and former news editor and assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday.


Knock me down with a feather, I agree with a newspaper editorial

A newspaper editorial  challenges our laws on suicide reporting.

News media in other free countries would be amazed at the restrictions on reporting deaths in New Zealand by suicide. For a long time it has been against the law to even call such a death by its name until after an inquest, usually months later, and even then only if the coroner permits. The most we may legally report at the time of the death is there are “no suspicious circumstances” or “police are not looking for anyone else”. Readers no doubt draw the right conclusion; circumlocution soon loses its point.

The euphemisms are ridiculous.

Not before time, Parliament is considering a bill to relax the restriction. If it is passed, it will become lawful to refer to a “suspected suicide” before an inquest is held. But in other ways the law is being tightened and one of them would restrict references to historical and overseas suicides. When a suicide bombing occurs overseas it may be illegal to report it in this country, according to Wellington lawyer Graeme Edgeler’s reading of the bill as it has emerged from a select committee.    Read more »


Reader content: We should be ashamed

Labour Associate Health Spokesperson David Clark has raised the issue of emergency departments having to cope with mentally ill patients with increasing frequency. He puts this down to a lack of resources for people with mental illness and who no longer have the support they used to.

I have worked in the mental health field for over fifty years and have seen the ‘worst’ of the old asylums and the ‘best’ of the new community approach to the treatment and support of people with mental illness. Indeed, my PhD was an evaluation of the difference between people treated in asylums (and I use the word deliberately) to those treated and supported in the community. At the time I completed my PhD research I concluded that on the whole, people with mental illness were better supported and treated in the community than in hospitals. I had run a meta-analysis of ten years of research into the different approach and felt my conclusions were sound and based on empirical evidence.


I began work in civilian life as a psychiatric nurse at a 2000 bed asylum just outside of London. A number of patients had been there for many years and were fully institutionalised or dependent on the institution for their support, basic necessities of life, treatment and rehabilitation. I was one of the early adopters of community care and confirmed my ideas with a PhD and many years of study so became an ‘expert’ in such matters.

How I was wrong.   Read more »

Face of the day

Humans of Dublin's photo.

Humans of Dublin’s photo-Facebook

Today’s face of the day has been at rock bottom and has clambered back up and made a happy life for himself. His story is the kind that I relate to. Very few people have it easy in life. I admire those who despite what life throws at them have the courage to do what needs to be done to get them back on track.

On February 5th I came down to wish my mother a happy birthday before I went to work and found her dead… She’d have been 45 that day. She was my best friend and my idol, and I was her only child. I was broken.
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