Torture as a Response to People in Crisis

Nadia Mahjoub

March 7, 2012

ENUSP, the European Network of (Ex-) Users and Survivors of Psychiatry, recently put out a press release on horrifying practices in psychiatry in the Czech Republic.  On January 20, 2012, according to reports in the Czech press, a 51-year-old woman hanged herself in a caged bed.  The woman’s death exposes the extreme abuse and neglect being endured by people inside Czech mental hospitals and clinics.

At least five other people have met unnatural and violent deaths while being restrained in cages in Czech psychiatric wards in recent years according to ENUSP’s research. a caged bed

In this blog, I intend to focus on practices in my country, Belgium, but I wanted to make this exception, because of the level of violence displayed and because it resonates with certain aspects of my own experience of  Belgian psychiatry.

I have been voluntarily admitted on three different occasions (1996, 2006 and 2008). Each time I ended up in the seclusion room.  I was in extreme distress and very confused at the outset of my admission. In response to my anxious state, I was secluded. My distress clearly deepened when I was left all alone, with only my demons for companions and a camera to heighten my paranoia. I don’t know how many hours it was later when, as a response to my worsening distress, I was surrounded by 6 to 8 different people, forcibly injected with a neuroleptic and restrained (arms and legs) against my will. It felt like rape.

This is not care; this is inflicted trauma.

There is obviously something blatantly wrong with a system that treats human beings worse than animals, secluding them, restraining them and even caging them.

I must add that I have the personal impression that a lot of caregivers, especially those who are younger and new to the ‘system’, feel bad when they ‘have to’ resort to these practices. Still they feel powerless because that’s the way psychiatry goes… After years in the system, I guess the initial shock of the caregiver wears off and numb resignation installs itself.

I have the impression that what is happening now in the Czech Republic is torture and neglect one level above what I went through.

I would encourage you to read the ENUSP press release “Czech Republic must Stop Caging Human Beings”. ENUSP urges the international community to take action by sending messages of protest to the Czech Ministry of Health.  (You can find a sample message in the press release.)

Nadia Mahjoub

Mad in Belgium: Nadia is convinced there are better ways to help people in crisis than what is provided generally in psychiatric care in her country today. In this blog, she will write about (her search for) alternatives, the local user and survivor movement and news about mental health in Belgium.

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3 thoughts on “Torture as a Response to People in Crisis

  1. I *love* that you wrote this, thank you SO much for it.

    In order for them to STOP – they must have an alternative practice to engage. They simply cannot “just stop” – what else or other will they do?

    Sometimes, as I have learned through experience – a person MUST simply “let things run their course”, without “safeties” or interventions. SOME people will *AUTOMATICALLY* begin to navigate themselves, in relation to their environment. In a word, one must experience FREEDOM. Oh, and LIBERTY.

    Support is excellent.

    Prohibition? NO.
    Control? NO.
    Restriction? NO.

    Support? YES.

    What is support? ALLOW. Observe. Keep your distance. LET the person yell, scream, spend their energy. HEAR them. Don’t judge them. Don’t “diagnose” them. ALLOW them the FULLNESS of experiencing their condition and state of being. They’re unhappy! They’re scared! They’re confused! They’re in PAIN.

    Tell them all of that is OKAY. They aren’t in trouble. They aren’t bad. They aren’t wrong.

    CARE ABOUT THE PERSON!!!

    Supposed to LISTEN. Supposed to CARE. Supposed to HEAR and UNDERSTAND. And then, MAKE WAY for FREEDOM – GIVE what a person NEEDS. Sometimes, we say what we need and we do not get it. We ask, and don’t receive – we don’t get given.

    BELIEVE a person when they’re telling a “crazy” story. BELIEVE THEM.

    Even if they’re UGLY and FAT and SLOB and they smell bad.

  2. “I must add that I have the personal impression that a lot of caregivers, especially those who are younger and new to the ‘system’, feel bad when they ‘have to’ resort to these practices. Still they feel powerless because that’s the way psychiatry goes… After years in the system, I guess the initial shock of the caregiver wears off and numb resignation installs itself.”

    This is so true! I teach psychology to nurses and as students most of them are opposed to seclusion and restraints. And indeed, years later they seem to have no problem applying seclusion and restraint.

    You blog made me think at the documentary that was filmed in a closed ward of the Saint-Anne hospital in Paris and which was broadcast on Arte. It is shocking to see the way patients are treated…

    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xdhzux_sainte-anne-hopital-psychiatrique-p_shortfilms

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