The 100th Anniversary of the 1916 Rising (Easter Rebellion) is currently being marked in Dublin City and Ireland. The Rising was launched by a small number of Irish Republicans at Easter time 1916 aiming to terminate British rule in Ireland and establish an independent Irish Republic. One of the principles of the Proclamation guaranteed:
‘religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens’
In the context of those presenting in emotional distress today in Ireland in 2016 however there is still no guarantee that civil liberties will be respected and the reality of equal rights/opportunities for those perceived to be suffering from ‘mental disorders’ is not on the horizon just yet. Diagnoses are based on subjective interpretation of ‘symptoms’ by Irish psychiatrists and other professionals who typically see individuals in terms of perceived deficits, brain disorders and inherited genetic defects. There are some more enlightened professionals who think in terms of ‘support’ and supporting decision making for those in distress as opposed to those who however compassionate and well meaning think in terms of ‘control’ ‘risk’ and substitute decision making. Many survivors of psychiatric abuse dread the paternalistic ‘best interests’ approach which typically has been used to deprive them of their basic human rights and to define what has contributed to their distress and what might support them to come through it.
Typically individuals in Ireland present in a voluntary capacity via their General Practitioner (GP), out of hours service or to the Accident & Emergency Unit of their local public hospital or to one of the private facilities. I am not aware of any psychiatric unit that does not use coercive practices of some sort. Most who present in a voluntary capacity on the first occasion are not made aware on entering the facility they can be detained and forcibly treated, albeit on the 2nd opinion of another psychiatrist, which usually validates the first opinion. If you do not agree to Diagnosis and Treatment, then you may well be subjected to detention and forced drugging, seclusion, restraint, ECT etc. Under international human rights law this is could be regarded as Torture. The first thing that typically goes is the individuals clothes, access to fresh air etc, access to phonecalls/visitors , even your children until it is established that you will essentially play ball. Mothers can as I did receive threats such as ‘you know we have the option to contact child protection services’. True informed consent for any ‘Treatment’ including around serious side effects of medication must be sought yet typically is not and usually information not provided automatically either way so that the individual can make or be supported to make an informed decision. For those that know how the system operates and disagree with the medical model fear permeates and is increasingly stopping individuals in distress from reaching out to get the support they desperately crave in a given crisis. Reports of individuals taking their own life rather than submitting to coercion are sadly not uncommon and increasing in frequency in Ireland. Members of our Traveller Community have an increased incidence of suicide seven times higher than the rest of the population and fear often prevents travellers seeking professional support.
Ministers Frances Fitzgerald and Aodhan O Riordain published a ‘Road Map for Ratification of UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ on 21st October 2015. Introducing Capacity Legislation features on this road map. Accordingly on 30/12/2015 our President Michael D Higgins signed the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Bill 2013. Rather than respecting the principles of CRPD though our Departments of Justice and Health and Government bizarrely based the legislation around ‘Mental Capacity’ providing for a ‘Functional Capacity Test’. Prof Brendan Kelly, a prominent Irish Psychiatrist has had huge influence and uses the CRPD to even defend administering Electroshock against the expressed wishes of an individual (family/loved ones have no rights either in respect of those with involuntary status). Minister Kathleen Lynch refused to listen to the voice of Civil Society Capacity Coalition, chaired by Eilionoir Flynn, Deputy Director, Centre for Disability Law & Policy NUI Galway and essentially deprived Irish Citizens of the Right to have Legal Capacity respected in law. In addition the legislation denies the right to make a legally binding Advance Healthcare Directive in the context of emotional health, even in respect of ECT. Although the word ‘unwilling’ was recently removed from our Mental Health Act 2001 , the word ‘unable’ still remains, essentially allowing forced detention and drugging to continue unabated. As a survivor of Psychiatry (my experience is relatively mild in many respects) I sat in the Public Gallery of our Houses of Parliament (Dail and Seanad) saddened by the refusal of our Minister and Government to uphold the principles contained in CRPD and respect Human Rights, despite being challenged by brillant Human Rights advocates including Jillian Van Turnhout and Katherine Zappone in our Seanad and Padraig Mac Lochlainn along with other elected representatives in our Dail Chamber. At a recent NGO Forum on Human Rights in Dublin Castle , ‘United Nations Council, ten years on’ (which UN Rapporteur Ms Catalina Devandas Aguilar was invited to speak and attended) Layla de Cogan Chin, Dept of Justice left attendees in no doubt with the Dept line that the Irish Government will essentially pick and choose what rights will be respected and that CRPD will be ratified with reservations/declarations.
Increasingly Irish survivors are looking to United Nations and the International Human Rights arena to expose the inability/indifference of the Irish Government and Psychiatry Profession to respectively legislate and usher in reform so that those who seek support can do so free of fear and terror of coercion. For some layer by layer of their human dignity is stripped away and they have to recover from the Diagnosis and ‘Treatment’ in addition to what brought them in contact with services in the first place. In my own case presenting in a voluntary capacity agreeing to take all prescribed medication, still resulted in an attempt by treating Psychiatrist in 2011 to attempt sectioning on the basis of a second opinion of her choice not mine. My apparent ‘crime’ was that I did not agree with given diagnosis or that medication would be of therapeutic benefit. A dear friend of mine, fellow human rights defender and member of Recovery Experts by Experience (REE) , at 77 years of age has to live daily with the fear of having ECT forced upon her despite having a power of attorney and Advance Directive made. Why should any Psychiatrist have the power to totally disregard her expressed wishes and disrespect her right to Legal Capacity should she ever become distressed in the future? Why should any human being live with the daily fear of having forced ECT again? As a member of Recovery Experts by Experience (REE) we made a submission to UN ICCPR in 2014. Tallaght Trialogue advocacy also submitted two reports under UN ICESCR in addition to contributing to joint parallel report from Civil Society, coordinated by Noeline Blackwell on behalf of FLAC. As a member of Tallaght Trialogue Advocacy I presented in person in June 2015 to UN ICESCR Committee in Geneva (speaking notes link below).
The UN CRPD reflects that each Human being has a right to be treated equally (Article 5) and have their will and preferences respected, that their legal capacity (Article 12) is inherent and above all that their human dignity must be respected. My hope is that the standards in the Convention that prohibit forced detention (Article 14) and treatment will propel Irish elected representatives to seek, resource and fund alternative approaches to coercion such as Open Dialogue, Hearing Voices Approach (see http://hearingvoicesnetworkireland.ie/ ) , Crisis Houses, Peer Support & Advocacy … Survivors of Psychiatry deserve to have their voices heard not silenced as is the case in Ireland where tick a box engagement is typical and ‘Experts speak to Experts’ time and time again without the voice of lived experience.
Thank you Tina Minkowitz and fellow advocates at CHRUSP, Eilionoir Flynn & past and present Colleagues, CDLP NUI Galway , Fiona Morrissey Lawyer & Researcher and to all who contributed to the CRPD and advocate to have the standards enshrined upheld. It is time the incoming Irish Government embraced the principles of Civil Liberties and Equality in the 1916 Proclamation and ratified the CRPD (signed 30th March 2007) and Optional Protocol without declarations/reservations. Why not embrace the opportunity without further delay to respect Legal Capacity (Article 12) and the will and preferences of individuals and treat every citizen equally regardless of physical disability, psycho-social disability or a perceived disability? A Democracy that silences the voice of Civil Society is not what the signatories of the 1916 Proclamation aspired to, nor is it appropriate for the survivors of psychiatric abuse past and present in 2016. It is time for Irish Legislators to be challenged by those charged nationally to uphold human rights to step up to the plate and respect and ratify the CRPD and Optional Protocol. Accordingly I unreservedly support the Campaign to Support CRPD Absolute Prohibition of Commitment and Forced Treatment.
Signed: Fiona Walsh, Human Rights Defender & Survivor of Irish Psychiatric Abuse
Dated: 28th March 2016
- Recovery Experts by Experience (REE)
- Tallaght Trialogue Advocacy (on facebook & twitter @TallaTrialogue)
Speaking notes ICESCR Review Ireland June 2015 , Fiona Walsh, Tallaght Trialogue Advocacy (pages 19/20 FLAC newsletter)
Irish Examiner Newspaper Article 20/01/2016
Dr. Fiona Morrissey, Lawyer & Mental Health Researcher: Article in Irish Examiner dated 21/11/2015 and link to her research regarding Advance Directives
Article in Irish Independent 15/11/2015
Eilionoir Flynn CDLP NUI Galway – Blog Posts on www.humanrights.ie
Prof Brendan Kelly, Psychiatrist, letter to editor 22/11/2015
Roadmap to ratification of CRPD issued by Irish Dept of Justice