Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Prison inside

I recently spent a couple of nights at Addington Prison in Christchurch. While some of you may not be surprised at this fact, (even having a brief glimmer of schadenfreude), i should really mention that i had to pay to get in, as it had just been converted into a boutique backpackers...so i guess i'm still a free woman.
Unlike many others.
Around 2am the night before i checked out, i saw a guest fumbling with the front door and went to let him in. Yet on opening the door, instead of smiling as he tipsily ambled past as i was expecting, the man immediately implored me to call an ambulance as he had been stabbed. Of course, i replied, but contrary to my usual compassionate self, shut the glass door on him as he attempted to come in from the cold.
As a woman alone in a deserted foyer, i'd instinctively read something about this guy that didn't add up, and erred on the side of caution. He was clutching his arm in pain, and he wasn't aggressive in any way, but something told me to keep my distance. I called the ambulance of course, but called the cops as well. I mean if he had been stabbed, it stood to reason someone out there had done the stabbing.
(THe irony of summonsing the cops to attend a prison to investigate a stabbed guy trying to get inside wasn't lost on anyone, least of all the investigating officer whose last visit was to deliver a man on remand into the holding cells.)
As it turned out, the man was experiencing a psychotic episode and had actually stabbed himself, so was taken to Christchurch hospital for assessment, leaving me thinking, as i lay in my cell, about the many others who appear free but are imprisoned by their minds with fear and paranoia, ritual and obsession, depression and anxiety.
Mental Illness is a tough one. I've struggled with depression in the past, as have many of my friends and collegues and i dont mean a period of sluggish flatness, but rather the hideous black cloud that drains you of all but despair, and beyond that, into meaningless nothingness. So i really felt for that guy and his crazy violent plea for help, trapped in a cloudy headspace. I even felt guilty for shutting the door on him, as prudent as it was as an isolated female in an empty room, as i dislike the association of mental illness with violence.
What is real however, is the lack of resources in our communitites for people to access the help they need, in ways that are constructive, timely and mindful of their dignity so I was pleased to hear the Feds announcement of a new Mental Health package, extending medicare rebates to social workers, occupational therapists and psychologists to provide community based support in Australia. Its a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.

2 comments:

tigtog said...

Nice teaser in the last post, SC.

I can totally understand the caution, and I hate the automatic assumption of violence from the mentally ill as well.

I hadn't heard about the Mental Health package, it is nice when they do something right.

the sublimely gothic cowgirl said...

I think the latest announcements are just an extension of the April package. It just caught my attention with the inclusion of medicare rebates for social workers this week.
As for the teaser, you weren't the only one i had worried.
Sorry mum.