Community Access to Mental Health Patients (read as pdf)
Denial of Visiting
From April 2009 until September 13, 2011, several dozen citizens of good character including psychiatrists, lawyers and other people of goodwill were blocked access to visit and help Saeed Dezfouli after nine and a half years locked in a closed hospital. This is one of many issues dealt with by Saeed. An issue, which is so significant, that it was raised before the NSW supreme court. The Mental Health Review Tribunal was also asked to intervene. Nobody responded.
Varying reasons for not allowing Saeed to have visitors have been offered by the Health Department. For example,
- “The ward clerk returned my call this afternoon and I haven't been given authorisation to visit Saeed tomorrow. She said that they're opening a new ward tomorrow and so security is flat out and the paperwork wasn't done in time.”
Justice Action worker, 29th July 2009.
- “You are not a physical friend of Saeed as you have not physically met him, and therefore your application will be rejected.” Head Officer of Security at Clovelly Forensic Hospital, 12th March 2010.
- “I acknowledge that the delay in approving Dr Westmore’s access has been regrettable”
Adrian Keller, 25th August 2010.
- “I have considered your request and have determined that no further investigation or explanation is warranted.”
Adrian Keller, 18th May 2011.
- “I can confirm that each of the persons listed in your email, including Dani, has been approved as a registered visitor to the Forensic Hospital for Mr Dezfouli.”
Adrian Keller, 8th September 2011.
- Upon calling the forensic hospital on 9th of September 2011, Dani was informed by the ward clerk that she has not been approved for visitation
- From 2009 until now all friends to Saeed have been blocked.
As well as many others that give more reasons, or excuses, for lack of visiting rights.
The Principles of Visiting
Maintaining adequate connections with the outside world is an essential right for any patient isolated with limited human contact. Mental health patients are legally entitled to rehabilitative care and support, not punishment based treatment. Therefore to withhold visitation rights of a patient, which is an essential aspect of their social devolvement during the rehabilitative process, is an unethical infringement upon patient’s rights. It is not only important for the patient, but also their family and the individuals of the community impacted by their disorder.
- Monitoring government behaviour and accessing human rights within prisons.
- Promotion of mental stability of the patient.
- Physiological improvement - for patient and loved ones.
One of the major interests of Saeed is to ensure that he gains visiting rights. This support would promote his rehabilitation process, which would in turn give him the correct abilities to re-enter society.
“Receiving visits is the only way for me to feel connected to the outside world, the only way I feel that I have rights in here”.
Visitation from loved ones who support the wellbeing of the offender provides a priority level of emotional care, family bond, and maintains relationships throughout the absence. It is well within the interests of the visitors that they are able to visit loved ones as it…
- Reinforces the importance of family, friends, and loved ones.
- Satisfies emotional needs and establish the tools for coping mechanisms.
- Breaks down the barriers associated and gives time for rebuilding relationships.
- Community support towards the transitions that occur upon release.
- Gives incentive towards good behaviour, rehabilitation and release, supplying a “safety net” of support.
- Provides a social reassurance and makes the reintegration process easier if contact with the community and friends is maintained.
Community Access and Deinstitutionalisation
It is widely accepted that deinstitutionalized practices are the most appropriate form of treatment for mental health patients. This model involves an accumulation of community-based programs that provide the patient with individualised, recovery and rehabilitative services allowing them to enhance their wellbeing.
This is clearly demonstrated through the lengthy and unsuccessful process of gaining visiting access to Saeed Dezfouli.
Visiting an incarcerated patient is the first step to improving their wellbeing. It breaks down any form of social isolation, allowing them to maintain a bond with their family and friends as well as providing them with both emotional and physical support. How this is relevant to their wellbeing is self evident; it reassures them that they are a part of the community and are no different to any other member. By having a strong support system, re-offending and recidivism is unlikely.
On June 8 2011, Brett Collins met with Adrian Keller and John Basson (Statewide Director of Forensic Mental Health) to discuss Saeed’s situation. When confronted on why there was such a strict definition of friendship, Keller replied saying there was no such policy. Interesting, as Justice Action have a clear report of their refusal to visit Saeed on the basis of that definition.
Keller’s resistance to the deinstitutionalisation model is a basic contradiction to improving the lives and wellbeing of mental health patients. As stated previously, it is proven that community support; programs and services evidently enhance the lives of mentally ill people. Community access to insitutitionalised systems such as Forensic Hospitals serve as an intermediate step in this model and are therefore imperative. If that is the case, why has Keller not adopted this step yet?
Refusing access to Saeed only further isolates him. Saeed himself has stated that “receiving visits is the only way for me to feel connected to the outside world, the only way I feel that I have rights in here”, reiterating the satisfaction he gains from community support. He adds that visits should be available to everyone as they are “healthy and therapeutic”. This information, combined with our deinstitutionalisation report, only further emphasises how the community plays a significant and key role in improving the lives of mentally ill patients. The fact Saeed is never informed when someone requests to visit him only suggests that the institution is intentionally blocking him from access to the community. Is this punishment for being critical to the type of care that he has received? If so, does that not breach section 69 of the NSW Mental Health Act 2007?
By refusing access to Saeed for over 2 years, deferring the subject, misinforming us and providing no legitimate responses, Adrian Keller and his team clearly reject community living and support as a form of mental health treatment. They are enigmatic in their responses, causing confusion and misunderstanding. Their lack of sufficient justification to their practices only reinforces the idea that they are hiding something, especially with the case of Saeed. They have demonstrated a whole level of preparedness to reject accountability through their refusal to disclose important information such as their code of conduct.