Marie McInerney writes:
Leading mental health advocate Fay Jackson has urged fellow consumers to “use the language of the law” to hold people and governments to account on their failures to protect the rights of people with mental health issues.
Jackson, who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is deputy commissioner of the NSW Mental Health Commission, delivered a powerful and emotional address on the opening day of the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council conference on Wednesday.
Jackson urged mental health consumers and advocates to focus on human rights rather than the role of stigma – which has been a target of many mental health campaigns over some years, and which Jackson called a form of “soft discrimination”.
She described Australia’s commitment to key human rights protections as “a frigging joke” and urged more than 250 delegates, many of them mental health consumers and peer workers, to not just try to change services, but to change society.
“This world is too bloody hard, and we need to change it,’ she said. “It needs to be soft, it needs to be generous, it needs to be what we are, which is fragile and fierce”.
Jackson was speaking immediately after attending a memorial service near Melbourne for Jackie Crowe, a much loved and respected member of the National Mental Health Commission since its inception in 2012, who died suddenly recently (as previously reported at Croakey).
Explaining her “lithium tremor” for those at the conference who don’t know her, Jackson said it did not come from anxiety about public speaking, although she said she is always anxious when she speaks, mindful that she has to seize every opportunity to make a connection, to convey a message.
“Every moment we have is important, today of all days we should know that,” she said, holding back tears. “I acknowledge our sister Jackie. We bid you goodbye.”
Other speakers and delegates at the conference also paid deep tribute to Crowe publicly and privately, describing her as “high achieving, tireless, and hardworking” and a “champion, someone who held us bureaucrats to account in a very fair and genuine way”. (Read more tributes at the bottom of this post.)
Focus on human rights
Jackson urged mental health consumers and advocates to stop talking about the role of stigma, and to challenge on human rights grounds.
This is the language we need to be using, this is the language we need to speak.
This is the language we need to hold each other and the government of this country to account.
If you’re being intimidated, bullied, harassed, victimised, they are the words you should be using.
We’ve allowed soft discrimination by using the word ‘stigma’. Reclaim the language of the law that will give us power.”
Stop childhood trauma
Jackson, whose conference biography describes her as a mother and grandmother who has also worked as a “Go Go dancer, teacher and comedian”, recounted being warned by doctors that she would never hold down work and “never be a valuable member of society”.
Now, as well as her role at the NSW Mental Health Commission, she is the General Manager of Inclusion at Flourish Australia, a large community managed organisation that supports people with mental health issues across New South Wales and south east Queensland.
And she’s a sought after public speaker and advocate for mental health rights, who has spoken across the country, including on programs like the ABC’s Q&A and One Plus One, calling out multiple abuses experienced by people with mental health issues, from child sexual abuse to forced medication and being confined to seclusion.
“Stop sexually abusing us as children and you’ve driven down most of the suicide rate,” she said, talking about the ongoing failure of health systems to invest in prevention instead of crisis interventions.
She also busts taboos and speaks out on the losses that people with mental health issues often experience from medication. Her tremors mean she can no longer do the fine brushwork that defined her painting.
Her message at the VMIAC conference for mental health consumers and advocates was to study the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly Article 5, which states:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
“Australia is a signatory to that,” she said. “What a frigging joke”.
“What the hell have we been through (as mental health patients) if not that,” she said, pointing to patients with mental health issues being forcibly injected and suffering dramatically lower life expectancy.
Her slide said:
- What is being taken down and forcibly injected?
- What is being locked into seclusion and restrain and being forced to clean your own faeces?
- What is being forced to take medication that makes you obese, significantly negatively affects your quality of life and shortens your life expectancy?
- What is being placed on a CTO (community treatment orders)? This is not recovery focused!!
Jackson raised the shocking 2014 case of mother-of-two Miriam Merten at Lismore Base Hospital in New South Wales, who died after falling at least 20 times after she was locked naked in a seclusion room and chemically restrained.
“What happened to our sister Miriam is not unusual,” she said. “The only thing that was unusual in that situation was that it was recorded and (the footage) was released.”
Jackson also blasted Australia’s commitment to the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recognises the “right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health without discrimination on the basis of disability”, when people with mental health issues have significantly lower life expectancy than other Australians.
Other failures for people with mental health, she said, were the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that “no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation”, and rights to education, work, healthcare and social security, so often breached in Australia.
In Finland, which she recently visited, 72 per cent of people with a schizophrenia diagnosis have a job. In Australia, only ten per cent do.
“Shame on us,” she said.
#VMIACConf17 gets started
Tributes to Jackie Crowe
Journalist Marie McInerney is covering #VMIACConf17 for the Croakey Conference News Service. Bookmark this link to follow her stories from the conference.