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Clarissa’s lived experience of seclusion

Mental health & addiction quality improvement
19 November 2018

Clarissa Chandrahasen has experienced first-hand the trauma and distress of being secluded.

Clarissa, from Lower Hutt, has had several engagements with mental health services.

'A few years ago, I was experiencing a manic episode, was wandering the streets, and was eventually found in someone’s garden,' she says. 'I was secluded firstly in a police cell, then later at the hospital. I was in a police cell for about two hours. At the hospital, there was a security guard outside.'

The seclusion was emotionally very stressful for her.

'I didn’t know how long I was going to be there. I might have been given some water. After about half an hour I was given a sandwich. I felt really trapped. I had no information.

'There should have been someone with me the whole time. Occasionally a doctor came in and sat with me. I went from there to the psych ward across the road and I was put into the very secure unit.'

She says there are much better ways of dealing with someone who is in distress.

'There should be a quiet safe space, not in a room in the middle of the emergency department. A room with things to do. I should have felt welcome in a safe space so I didn’t feel like I was being punished.

'When I came out of seclusion, there was no discussion about why it happened. I wasn’t given any explanation.'

Clarissa has had about five admissions.

'I’ve always arrived in a state of mania. I’ve been administered IM . On that occasion, about four people came into the room, got me onto a mattress and injected me. I think after that point they locked the door and I couldn’t get out.'

She has had to process and recover from these traumatic incidents. Her key message for mental health and addiction health professionals is; 'Don’t contribute to the patient’s trauma. Treat them as though they are someone you care about.'

Clarissa has written a one-woman play about her story, Committed, which was part of the Fringe Festival, and was performed at Bats Theatre in early November. Interest in the play was high with all nights sold out. She would like to tour the show around New Zealand.

The Health Quality & Safety Commission’s Mental Health and Addiction Quality Improvement Programme is committed to an aspirational goal of zero seclusion for Aotearoa/New Zealand. Research shows the practice is traumatising for consumers, and there is some evidence that it is also traumatising for staff. Seclusion contravenes very basic human and disability rights.

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