Tag Archives: mental illness

ishtar-front-cover‘Whatever Happened to Ishtar?’ by Anne Frandi-Coory  is a necessary read for any mother in order to help make an adjustment to your mindset in this information age filled with books on how to parent better.

Anne tells, in an honest and direct way, the reality of her childhood where her mother was largely absent; suffering neglect and abuse in the hands of the Catholic Church and her extended [Lebanese] family.  Despite this absence by her [Italian] mother, the rare moments Anne shared with her still gave her something enormous.

It is a balanced account such as she does acknowledge the education the Catholic Church introduced her to.

Why Anne’s story is one of redemption and healing is that, despite what she reveals of her childhood and subsequent adult quest to reach a place of understanding, Anne has in her, a life blood and intelligence that is vibrant and strong.  Anne knows how to live in the moment and embrace love and laughter to its full.

Anne is giving back to her children the opposite of what she was given which is a massive testament to her strength and sheer force of character.  So if you ever feel you are not giving enough to your child take a read of what Anne didn’t get from her biological parents.  Be encouraged by Anne’s story that even the most meagre rations her parents were able to give did make a difference to her.  How much more so, an available parent with intent to actively love her children, despite the inevitable mistakes you make along the way?  Such a mother  Anne has turned out to be, despite all odds.


roseann cameron

Roseann Cameron, Christchurch New Zealand 25 November 2013


Read here more about Anne Frandi-Coory’s mother:


PHENOMENA: The Lost And Forgotten Children

 by Susan Tarr.

Updated 3 July 2018 –  ‘PHENOMENA has been nominated for several book awards, and the latest is to be shortlisted for Book of the Month Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon CA …


phenomena susan tarr


At the heart of this book is the story of a ‘disabled’ little boy whose journey through life is narrated with empathy and compassion by author, Susan Tarr. Not long after the tragic death of his baby brother, followed closely by the death of his beloved mother, he is abandoned by his father at a railway station. When this severely traumatised little boy is picked up by authorities he can’t or won’t give his name.  In fact, he refuses to speak at all. The decision is made to admit him to the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, a common practise in the 19th and early 20th centuries in New Zealand. Upon admission into Seacliff he is given the name, Malcolm, and there he withdraws completely into himself. He is subsequently diagnosed as being of below normal intelligence as well as having some kind of mental illness. He is incarcerated in the Asylum with other traumatised children; some with their mothers and others, like Malcolm, alone.


seacliff 002

Seacliff Lunatic Asylum in Dunedin, New Zealand. Demolished in 1959.


Although a work of fiction, Malcolm’s story is based on a true story. In actual fact, the author knows ‘Malcolm’ personally and she has made his story a composite of the lives of many children who grew up in the Gothic styled Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. This is partly to protect his true identity and partly to weave into the book the lives of other ‘lost and forgotten children’ in psychiatric institutions.

Susan Tarr lived in a small East Otago coastal settlement near the mouth of the Waikouaiti River, situated approximately 20 miles north of Dunedin city. Seacliff Village relied on Seacliff Lunatic Asylum nestled on the hill above it for its commercial existence. Many residents of the village worked at the asylum as attendants, nurses, cleaners, cooks, gardeners and tradespeople. Susan Tarr had relatives and friends who were employed as staff, and she has herself  previously worked at  Seacliff Asylum and other psychiatric hospitals.

I grew up in Dunedin and knew of Seacliff  the asylum although I knew of no-one who had been a patient there. Whenever anyone spoke of Seacliff, it conjured up for me, images of raving, salivating lunatics. However, I did have a school friend my own age who attended St Dominic’s College at the top of Rattray Street in the city at the same time I was there. She travelled by train to and fro between Waikouaiti train station and the College every school day.  On occasion I was invited to her home where I met her parents and siblings. Her father was a psychiatric nurse at Seacliff. It transpired that Susan Tarr also knew my  school friend and her family very well; they were near neighbours in the residential settlement at Seacliff/Waikouaiti.

I had never communicated with the author before I saw her post on Twitter with a link to information about Phenomena. So it was very much a chance connection. I bought and downloaded the book immediately onto my tablet and I couldn’t put it down. Not only because it is so well written, but also because it evoked memories of Dunedin which I had left behind many years ago.  Susan Tarr writes in detail about the parks and streets in and around Dunedin. She has accessed personal diaries, old letters, and interviewed ex-staff and former patients for the book. Personal and shared experiences with the author’s workmates, family and friends have added to the depth of this work.

To accompany Malcolm on his journey through the pages of Phenomena is to gain a remarkable insight into the thoughts and feelings of sufferers at a time when mental illness was little understood. The harsh treatment of children at Seacliff, an institution completely devoid of love and understanding, is heartrending. Most of the children suffered from nothing more than emotional trauma, or epilepsy. Some patients, admitted as children, spent their whole lives incarcerated at Seacliff, and died there. Women who succumbed to misdiagnosed post-natal depression were declared ‘insane’ and locked away from family support and their children which often deepened their depression, developed into psychotic states or far worse.  Ex-soldiers suffering battle fatigue and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (not properly diagnosed at the time) were also among patients at Seacliff.  There were also many ‘criminally insane’ inmates but they were locked up in a secure section of the hospital.

At the forefront of institutional care for the ‘insane’ in New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries was Dr Frederic Truby King, known as Truby King. Malcolm’s story brings to vivid life the day to day existence for patients at Seacliff  under the radical ideas instituted by Dr King. The doctor was well qualified at the time, having gained a Bachelor of Medicine and Science, and Master of Surgery at Edinburgh University. In 1894 he returned to Edinburgh to study Brain Pathology, nervous and mental disorders. He became a Member of Psychological Association of Great Britain. During Dr King’s tenure as Medical Superintendent of Seacliff between 1889 and 1920, his energy and compassion towards patients earned him a ‘solid reputation’. But he ran the Asylum with the authoritarian and disciplinarian attitudes of the era. Concurrently, Dr King held the lectureship of mental diseases at Otago University and consultancies in Public Health and Medical Jurisprudence. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also responsible for the overall management of auxiliary institutions at Waitati, and The Camp on the Otago Peninsula.  In terms of the horror stories recorded at other lunatic asylums around the world, there is no doubt Dr King began a benign revolution in the care of the mentally ill.

Susan Tarr cleverly weaves the changes Dr King brought to institutional care through Malcolm’s eyes. The detail of his and other children’s lives growing up in the Asylum among severely disturbed and mentally ill adults is harrowing. More so because they were intelligent but had no idea why they were there or of life outside of Seacliff.  The treatments and bullying Malcolm endured are frightening and he eventually suppressed any curiosity about life, closing himself off from everybody and everything around him.  Because he had been institutionalised since childhood, his perceptions of life outside were incomplete, mystifying and alarming. Some attendants could be aggressive and violent and Malcolm felt the constant scrutiny unnerving. He saw events and heard discussions he had little internal resources to process.  In the children’s and adults’ minds, the uniformed staff were wardens, there to be obeyed and to inflict punishments on them when necessary. They were not there to offer comfort or give answers to any questions patients might have.

As Malcolm grew into manhood, life began to evolve even more at Seacliff. The  hospital complex had been run as a 900 acre farm, vegetable garden and orchard within its boundaries, with any produce used by the patients and staff as Dr King had envisaged. He firmly believed that mental illness was the result of the maltreatment and malnourishment of infants. So a healthy diet and plenty of fresh air were essential. Dr King had also established a fishing business at Karitane, a small coastal settlement a few miles north of Seacliff. Patients who enjoyed fishing  hitched rides in the hospital van and it was said that so much fish was caught on these regular trips that it ‘contributed greatly to the fishing industry’ and of course contributed to the patients’ healthy diet.

Malcolm was eventually allowed much more freedom around and outside the Asylum environs and he benefited greatly from his activities in the gardens and on the farm. His memory and speech slowly returned and he befriended members of  staff, particularly the head cook and one of the gardeners, who tried to assist Malcolm with answers to baffling questions which arose out of the return of disturbing memories. These memories were able to surface because Malcolm accumulated the sedative pills he was given daily, after his ‘foggy’ brain slowly realised these were what was befuddling him. He had to be careful though, because if the attendants had found out he would be given ‘the treatment’ again.

The ‘real’ person Malcolm is, for so long buried deeply, becomes evident towards the end of the book after a staff member helps him to recover fully, lost and painful memories, and to research his birth date and his full name. The author skilfully uses Malcolm’s long road to rehabilitation to highlight the later important developments in psychiatric care. Namely the emphasis on the medical classification of patients, the increase in patients’ liberty, the agitation for early and voluntary admission, more highly trained staff, and more female nurses. In the past, drugs, so important today, were used infrequently, mainly to calm patients. And psychoanalysis was seldom in use. One can’t help thinking how psychotherapy could have benefited Malcolm had he had access to this kind of treatment when he was first admitted to the Asylum as a deeply traumatised boy

Some of Dr King’s revolutionary ideas allowed patients to run the farm, orchard and gardens under supervision. Dr King originally replaced the attendant/gardener with a landscape gardener commissioned to develop an attractive bush setting for patients and staff to work and live in, with pleasant views out to sea. The idea was to banish all feelings of imprisonment from the patients’ minds. Dr King also designed and implemented a gravitational system of sewage irrigation which eliminated the foul-smelling gas that permeated the building. But the building itself was erected in 1874, on ‘shifting sands’ so there remained serious structural problems which Malcolm and the other patients had to live with. An ‘add-on’ structure behind the main building was consumed in a horrific fire in which many patients, locked in their rooms, were burned alive. The revivalist Gothic Seacliff Lunatic Asylum was finally demolished in 1959.

With a philosophy of efficiency and economy, Dr King had become actively involved in running the farm at Seacliff. Male patients worked outside on the farm and in the gardens while female patients did sewing and knitting, and worked in the laundry and kitchen although there was a male cook who produced delicious and nourishing meals while Malcolm lived there. Dr King held that farm work was unsuitable for women, but the chief reason for the ‘division of labour’ may have been that there was a concern about intimacy between patients of the opposite sex for various reasons. Of course close relationships between patients did exist, as well as antagonistic ones. Every summer a picnic was held for the patients while recreations and amusements were encouraged.  Dr King had to ‘vigorously defend’ the expense of maintaining a staff band, which continued to play at dances for the patients and other celebrations.

By 1895 Dr King was convinced that healthy diets and the general improvements in ventilation, drainage and other hygienic measures implemented at Seacliff were responsible for the almost entire eradication of erysipelas and ulcerated throats. Other doctors and scientists of the era had also known of the importance of hygiene, good nutrition and healthy environments, but Dr King reinforced his knowledge by putting his ideas to work at Seacliff.  Dr King has since been proven wrong in many of his beliefs about psychiatric illness, of which there was scant knowledge at the time. Environmental and social engineering could not and cannot, cure deep-seated psychological problems.

-Anne Frandi-Coory  5 August 2014

Also here on Anne Frandi-Coory’s facebook page:


For More about Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, see previous post



><><> Updated 2 April 2016 ><><>

‘A Mad Girl’s Love Song; Sylvia Plath And Life Before Ted’

by Andrew Wilson is …

A MUST READ FOR ALL SYLVIA PLATH FANS… a comprehensive biography which certainly helps the reader to better interpret Plath’s poetry. I believe that Plath never fully recovered from the sudden death of her father when she was eight years old. His presence ameliorated somewhat his wife’s obsessiveness over their daughter’s upbringing.  After he died, her mother’s interference in Plath’s education and later, her life choices, stifled her creativeness and her sense of her place in the world.

Eventually Sylvia Plath would commit suicide by putting her head in a gas oven while her two children slept in the next room. She was 30 years old. Her previous attempt at suicide , which she barely survived, was dramatic and bizarre.  She had suffered from severe depression since her teens and had been treated with sleeping pills and ECT. She was also an insomniac.

Her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, left her for another woman. Sylvia struggled to care for their two young children, and to earn enough money, while continuing to write.  She was not close to her possessive mother, but found it difficult to escape her over-bearing influence. During the early stages of her treatment, she was advised not to have any contact with her mother. Ted Hughes remarried, and his second wife also committed suicide, four years after their marriage.

Sylvia Plath’s son, Nicholas, killed himself in 2009 following a history of depression.


Mad Girl's Love Song


Rear cover of The Bell Jar (click on image to enlarge)


Semi-autobiographical, The Bell Jar  is well worth reading,  if you wish to know more about Sylvia Plath from her own perspective. It also features some of her pen and ink drawings.

-Anne Frandi-Coory 14 December 2011



Viciousness in the kitchen!

The potatoes hiss!

It is all Hollywood, windowless,

The flourescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine,

Coy paper strips for doors –

Stage curtains – a widow’s frizz.

And, I, love, am a pathological liar,

And my child, look at her, face down on the floor,

Little unstrung puppet, kicking to disappear –

Why she is schizophrenic,

Her face red and white, a panic,

You have stuck her kittens outside your window

In a sort of cement well

Where they crap and puke and cry and she can’t hear.

You say you can’t stand her,

the bastards a girl.

You who have blown your tubes like a bad radio

Clear of voices and history, the staticky

Noise of the new.

You say I should drown the kittens. Their smell!

You say I should drown my girl.

She’ll cut her throat at ten if she’s mad at two.

The baby smiles, fat snail,

From the polished lozenges of orange linoleum.

You could eat him. He’s a boy.

You say your husband is just no good to you.

His Jew-Mama guards his sweet sex like a pearl.

You have one baby, I have two.

I should sit on a rock off Cornwall and comb my hair.

I should wear tiger pants, I should have an affair.

We should meet in another life, we should meet in air,

Me and you.


Meanwhile there’s a stink of fat and baby crap.

I’m doped and thick from my last sleeping pill.

The smog of cooking, the smog of hell.

Floats our heads, two venomous opposites,

Our bones, our hair.

I call you Orphan, orphan.  You are ill.

The sun gives you ulcers, the wind gives you T.B.

Once you were beautiful.

In New York, in Hollywood, the men said: ‘Through?

Gee baby, you are rare.’

You acted, acted, acted for the thrill.

The impotent husband slumps out for a coffee.

I try to keep him in,

An old pole for he lightning,

The acid baths, the skyfuls off of you.

He lumps it down the plastic cobbled hill,

Flogged trolley. The sparks are blue.

The blue sparks spill,

Splitting like quartz into a million bits.

O jewel! O valuable!

That night the moon

Dragged its blood bag, sick


Up over the harbor lights.

And then grew normal,

Hard and apart and white.

The scale-sheen on the sand scared me to death.

We kept picking up handfuls, loving it,

Working it like dough, a mulatto body,

The silk grits.

A dog picked up your doggy husband. He went on.


Now I am silent, hate

Up to my neck,

Thick, thick.

I do not speak.


I am packing the hard potatoes like good clothes,

I am packing the babies,

I am packing the sick cats.

O vase of acid,

It is love you are full of. You know who you hate.

He is hugging his ball and chain down by the gate

That opens to the sea

Where it drives in, white and black,

The spews it back.

Every day you fill him with soul-stuff, like a pitcher.

You are so exhausted.

Your voice, my ear-ring,

Flapping and sucking, blood-loving bat.

That is that. That is that.

You peer from the door,

Sad hag, ‘Every woman’s a whore.

I can’t communicate’.


I see your cute décor

Close on you like the fist of a baby

Or an anemone, that sea

Sweetheart, that kleptomaniac.

I am still raw.

I say I may be back.

You know what lies are for.


Even in your Zen heaven we shant meet.


Plath’s pen & ink drawings from ‘The Bell Jar’

Worn Out – Van Gogh (May 1890)

Van Gogh spent his life fighting to keep his sanity.  His paintings and letters to his brother Theo give us an insight into his lifelong suffering.

But in Adelaide this week,  an inquest recounted the last hours of a desperate father’s life as his sanity slipped away from him.  The inquest  heard a recording  of David Wyatt’s call to Mental Health Triage Services and the operator advising him to “take a warm shower, a warm drink, and relax”.    A few hours after the call Mr Wyatt stabbed his partner and severed his 15 day-old daughter’s ear before killing himself and his two-year old son Jakob in March 2009.

One of the things Mr Wyatt told the health services’ operator was that he had just smoked cannabis and believed he was going to die.

State agencies obviously failed Mr Wyatt, who was a clinically diagnosed schizophrenic,  after he was released into the community in 2006 on a four-year supervised release licence after being found not guilty of robbing a woman due to mental incompetence.

“Everybody involved in the matter knew Mr Wyatt was taking drugs. He presented to emergency departments in psychotic rages and nothing was done about it,” counsel assisting said.  It is difficult to understand the lack of action by various agencies especially in light of the fact that children were involved.  What came out of this inquest, was that none of the agencies consulted with each other and there was no risk assessment of the children’s safety.  The fact that Mr Wyatt suffered hallucinations, heard voices, and believed he was receiving messages from the Television set, should have set off alarm bells and alerted the services to the danger the children were in, not to mention the children’s mother.

This man repeatedly breached his supervised licence, which led to stints in the James Nash House mental facility, but his licence was never revoked.  Severely mentally  ill people are  abandoned within the community, posing a danger to themselves and others.  Surely Mr Wyatt should have been institutionalised; the answer to this question is always that there aren’t enough beds available.  Apparently this is the reason his licence was not revoked.  It’s like playing Russian roulette with people’s lives.

The truth of the matter is that mental health issues in Australia have been neglected for too long.


More… Mothers With Mental Illness

&       Mental Illness & Asylum

Lunatic Asylums in the bad old days: Seacliff Asylum built on the Otago peninsula c. 1876


The 2011 Federal Budget is especially good news for mothers with severe mental illnesses such as  bipolar disorder and depression.

More money has been allocated for early intervention, so that mothers and their children are not separated.  Mothers with severe mental illness who can’t care for their children, often lose them to social welfare.  This causes so much grief and despair for those mothers, heaped on top of whatever mental illness they are already suffering.  Not only that, the children taken from their mothers can suffer from the separation trauma for the rest of their lives.  I have lived through this because my mother suffered from a severe bipolar disorder and lost her children.  None of us fared well at all and our mother had the added burden of deep seated guilt which she never overcame.  (See ‘Whatever Happened To Ishtar?’)  Far better to offer help before the situation reaches crisis point.

In the dark ages of the past, mentally ill mothers were confined to lunatic asylums (as they were then called) with their babies, and all spent the rest of their lives locked up.  Thank goodness those days have gone, at least in modern western countries.  At the other end of the scale, after asylums were closed down, the mentally ill were all but forgotten.

The Richmond Fellowship of NSW, runs the residential and treatment program at Charmian Clift Cottages, which is one of a kind, supporting some of that state’s most vulnerable women and their children.   A cluster of individual villas house women, suffering severe mental illness, with their children.  The women receive 24 hour emotional and psychiatric support on site as well as ongoing training in parenting skills.   Of course, there are not enough villas available, but the money allocated in the latest budget will help.


Philip Boyce, Psychiatry Sydney Medical School, Westmead,  says this is a godsend for some of these women who will in other circumstances have had their baby taken away from them or placed into care.


See:  Mental Illness & Asylum

Separation; The Wound That Never Heals

Doreen Frandi during WWll. Photo: afcoory

Dear *Francine

I finished reading your PhD thesis *Virginia’s Story last night.  Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read it in the first place – I feel it was meant to be, like a chance encounter!

While taking in Virginia’s words, I had a little cry, because so much of what she is crying out for – dignity, personhood – is what I so wanted for my mother, Doreen.  She never did receive much of that respect in her life; not from hospitals, men, or from family.  This was my chief motivation for writing Whatever Happened To Ishtar? – A Passionate Quest To Find Answers For Generations of Defeated Mothers’.

By the time I had the chance to really know my mother, it was too late; the drugs and ECT had taken their toll.  Much of what she had experienced in psychiatric wards and throughout the manic, psychotic,  and depressive phases of her life, was passed on to me by my brother, Kevin, who lived with her until he was married.  After that, he spent time with her either at his home or at her council flat in Wellington, otherwise he spoke to her daily by phone.  I tried to obtain her records from Porirua Psychiatric Hospital, but they would not release them to me because I was not listed as her next of kin.  However, as I reveal in Whatever Happened To Ishtar?, Doreen’s psychiatrist did phone me and answered most of the questions I asked of her regarding Doreen’s psychiatric history.  Obviously, she did not volunteer information, so I only have knowledge of a small section of my mother’s official records of the times she was confined at the hospital.

Even though I was never admitted to a psychiatric ward, I came close to a mental breakdown when I was a young woman and my marriage was failing.  I can well understand, therefore, Virginia’s desire to leave her marriage, which was draining her physical and mental strength.   I also experienced what it was like to be denied personhood and dignity, when I was a child and teenager. I was branded and often humiliated by my Lebanese extended family because of who my mother was; her bipolar disorder and her Italian descent.  What I hated most was the way they branded her a “sharmuta” (prostitute) when she was nothing of the sort and could not defend herself.  There are many parallels in my, Doreen’s,  and Virginia’s stories.  I regret so much that Doreen only took Kevin with her when she left Dunedin for Wellington,  and abandoned me.  I believe that as her daughter, I may have been able to empathise more with her, and given support to my brother.  Sadly, I will never know for sure what the outcome would have been in that scenario.  Thank goodness Virginia at least had a loving daughter to look after her welfare.

I was very interested in what you had to say in your thesis about biographies vs autobiographies; about creativity and whether or not bipolar disorder is actually a mental illness.  Many brilliant artists as you know, exhibit facets of the disorder.  I read a medical paper recently which suggested that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are symptoms brought about through the brain evolving, which of course it has been doing for thousands of years.  An interesting theory.

I intend to contact Bipolar networks in Australia, and perhaps give talks about my and my brother’s experiences with Doreen and her disorder.  If you have any contacts here, I would be grateful if you could pass their name or names on to me.  Alternatively, members of bipolar networks can contact me via this blog and request a copy of the book .

At your suggestion, I called at the  office of the  Bipolar Network after our meeting and donated a copy of ‘Ishtar?‘ which they were very pleased to receive. I told them they could purchase more copies at  University Book Shops. Although the Public Library acquisitions officer requested to buy copies directly from me when I met with her to promote my book, I told her the normal process was that the library purchase copies through  University Book Shops.

Thank you once again for taking the time to meet with me, and for buying copies of my book for the Dunedin University Book Shop.

Kind regards

Anne Frandi-Coory


Bipolar Disorder Blog   (The Crazy Rambler)

Bipolar Disorder; The Little We Know


*Names have been changed for privacy reasons

Updated 15 April 2015

Why is Mental Illness always at the bottom of the Public Health funding list when we all know that mental and physical health are intertwined!?

Mental health expert Patrick McGorry has just been voted Australian of the Year.  It is so good to see such a prevalent disorder as mental illness in the news and highlighted.  Mr McGorry  is also concerned with the plight of refugees, including women and children,  held for years in detention centres or ‘Asylums’.  It has been well documented how detrimental an effect long periods of  institutionalisation has on a person’s  mental health.

Xenophobia is alive and well but not just in Australia.  Western countries as well as developing countries are suspicious of, and fear those from different ethnic groups.  Throw in religion and it becomes a volatile mix which is evident in  the bloodshed in many countries around the world at the present time.

‘Unfortunate Folk; Essays on Mental Health Treatment 1863-1992’ is an  Otago University publication  researched and edited by postgraduate history students at University of Otago between 1972 and 2000.  Attitudes to mental illness in Australasia haven’t really changed that much I don’t think; political correctness has intervened and made the way we speak about mentally ill patients a little less hostile, that’s all.

My mother had a severe bi-polar disorder and spent many years in and out of a mental hospital where she often received Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT) in the 1950s and 1960s which eventually left her in a state of permanent mental lethargy.  Apparently it was important to keep her emotions tightly controlled in order to level out her mood swings, but in the process killed off all her creativity.  The right drugs were not available then.  My mother’s traumatic childhood and adolescence probably brought on the disorder and I am sure her stint in a Catholic convent trying unsuccessfully to outrun life in the natural world and become a nun,  added to the intensity of her affliction.  As I write in my book, Whatever Happened to Ishtar?’ mental illness and its attendant prejudices has had a lasting effect on subsequent generations of her family. The fact that she was Italian certainly played its part in other people’s perception of her displays of emotion.

ECT was introduced into mental hospitals in 1943 in Australasia and considerable experimentation with this method of treatment, and new drugs, was carried out on patients.  ECT  was first used without anaesthetic on patients who were suffering from “over excitability” and depression, both of which my mother “suffered” from.

A personal account from a medical student shown around Seacliff Mental Asylum in NZ in 1943:

“A consultant…brought them onto the stage and asked them about things and showed off how tragic they were, but I mean, it was a show and I think they were used to showing off as they were expected to. That was part of it, but the really awful thing was when we went around the wards.  One particular one that I remember…there was this great big ward and there were a whole lot of what looked like old and bedraggled women with white hair all over everywhere and they were all dressed the same, in white hospital things like you put on when you go for a  x-ray and they all came crowding round the trolley, clattering their spoons and tin plates and it was just like feeding the animals, it was absolutely horrendous.  That would have been around 1943 …it was just at the very earliest stages of shock treatment …it was certainly the first time of using unmodified ECT, and no anaesthetic, it was horrific”.

These places were worse than the prisons in which  criminals were incarcerated.  The sad thing is that many people still believe that the mentally ill should be locked away somewhere out of sight and out of mind.

Unfortunate  Folk;                          The Mentally Ill

The above book quotes many interesting statistics:  In 1874,  of in-patients in mental institutions in Otago NZ there were twice as many men as women (mostly gold miners) and the majority of the women were married.  “Most religious denominations were represented but the three major groups were Presbyterian, Anglican and Catholic. The numbers of Presbyterian and Anglican patients roughly mirrored their ratios to the general Otago population”…  “However, there were nearly twice as many Catholic patients as there should have been”… “The Irish, who made up the majority of Catholics,were over-represented to the same degree”.

The married women often had their children incarcerated with them in the mental institution.

In 1903, New Zealand’s then Prime Minister, Richard Seddon reported his genuine concern:

“To see the children in the asylum was heartbreaking.  Children of tender years were to be found with the adults, and, in some cases sitting on the floor. In any of the asylums they would find little boys and girls hopelessly and helplessly insane, and to keep them here with such surroundings as they had was not, to his mind, the right thing to do”.

The next significant group incarcerated in mental institutions were Chinese gold miners and they aroused strongly racist sentiment among some of the authorities.   The following is an inspector’s report which defies belief that it could be written by a government Health Official inspecting the institutions:

“There are seven Chinese lunatic patients in the Asylum [it is interesting that the term asylum is still being used in relation to refugees today] and considering the racial antipathy of the European to the leprous Mongolian, I am of the opinion that it is injurious to the European Lunatic being brought into daily contact with the Chinese, and that an additional ward and airing court should be provided for the latter without delay”

The last paragraph in the book is a summary regarding the boundaries between “madness and reason”:

“Patients, families, the public, politicians, and health professionals all upheld the boundaries between madness and reason. Progress in the decade under question was slow and fragmentary, although the seeds for more radical change were soon being laid. From the later 1950s, de-institutionalisation became the focus of mental health policy, and has remained in controversial favour ever since. Large and isolated mental hospitals became a thing of the past. But although this achieved some alteration in the social status of the mentally ill it has not completely destroyed the boundary between madness and reason. The legacy of madness as a separate world remains. In essence, the psychiatrist is still an ‘alienist’ treating those designated as ‘foreigners’ by their families, the public, and the medical profession”. Mr McGorry  might add here, “and the Australian Government’s  health system”.

-Anne Frandi-Coory  15 April 2015 

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