From Rachel Waddingham – Behind the Label: “Last week I emerged from hibernation to attend a ‘Psychology at the Movies’ screening of 55 Steps – an important and hard-hitting film based on the true story of Eleanor Reise (a lady repeatedly drugged against her will, played by Helena Bonham Carter) and Collette Hughes (her lawyer, played by Hilary Swank) that has been effectively buried. What I write here is based on a series of tweets I made, trying to explain why we need to work together to resurrect it.
The opening scene was far more familiar than an ’80s U.S. asylum should be. Whilst our wards in the UK are often more modern and I’ve never seen someone tied to their bed, ‘physical restraint’ is very much alive & kicking. I have been bundled into seclusion, forced to the ground, had my pants pulled down & been injected with a drug that stole my will. I’ve felt humiliated, desperately needing a wee and being left for hours.
In response to Collette’s opening gambit of her being there to help, Eleanor said: ‘Everybody’s here to help me. That’s why I need help’. This cuts to the heart of it. Most people working in mental health want to ‘help’. Most family members agree to hospitalisation hoping it’ll ‘help’. Wider society is able to avert their eyes because good and kind people are trying to ‘help’. By framing restraint and forced drugging as an intervention to give treatment we have created a guided mask for what is essentially state-sanctioned GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm).
In almost any other situation, pinning people down and injecting them would be cause for investigations and criminal charges. The perpetrators would be seen as aggressors. Those who fought back would be seen as courageous . . .
We try not to draw comparisons with sexual assault, or allow ourselves to fully recognise or feel the profound degradation involved. We focus on the ‘kindness’ and ‘professionalism’ of the staff, the ‘training’ provided, the ‘illness’ of the person and that it is an ‘intervention of last resort’. We resort to the idea that ‘lives are at risk’ if we do not ‘act’. That it is the ‘only option available’ . . .
We need public will to fight again this and create the humane and ethical alternatives we need so badly . . .
If you can, please check out 55 Steps . . . We need to make our voices heard and let people know that this is not, in any way, mental health care.”