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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2004 Week 2 Hansard (3 March) . . Page.. 668..


MS DUNDAS (continuing):

After treatment has been administered and the patient is deemed to be well again, some people are glad that they were forced to receive treatment, but some are not. But no mentally ill person is happy about being treated like a criminal when they have broken no law. At present, police are often used to collect mentally ill people to take them to hospital for assessment by a psychiatrist where an application has been made for a psychiatric treatment order.

Under the present system, usually a marked police car pulls up out the front of the house of the person whom the crisis assessment and treatment team has determined is probably in need of psychiatric treatment and who is unwilling to voluntarily admit himself or herself. Uniformed police, usually two or three of them, knock on the door and attempt to convince the person to come to hospital with them. Sometimes they actually end up half carrying that person into the police vehicle. All too often, the waiting vehicle is a paddy wagon.

You can imagine how this looks to people living next door. It looks like the person being taken away has been arrested for some serious crime, one that is too serious even for a simple court summons. The loss of dignity that mentally ill people suffer in this situation, often at a time when they are at their most fragile, is severe. It creates further stress at the time and sometimes even results in further illness, such as post-traumatic stress.

I think that it is worth mentioning that this humiliating experience can happen to someone who does not even have a recognised mental illness. Some young people who have rejected their parents' values are finding themselves being dragged into the mental health system because their parents decide that they are displaying signs of a mental illness. If the young person refuses to speak to the CAT team, they may find themselves forcibly transported to hospital by police for psychiatric assessment, at which point the psychiatrist decides that there is no illness.

Theoretically, a similar thing could happen to any one of us, because you can be apprehended by police even if you have not broken a law and no doctor has formed an opinion that you have a mental illness. It can be traumatic and embarrassing not only for the individual involved but also for their relatives and friends as they see their child, their parent, a partner or a friend taken away by uniformed police in a paddy wagon or a marked car.

The wearing of uniforms also adds to making the police officer's job more difficult. Many people with mental illness have a great fear of police in uniform, or anybody in uniform. Where they would offer little resistance to a plain-clothes officer, they panic and resist an approach by a uniformed officer.

And ill person being taken away by police is often left with fear after the event that a police car may pull up without warning at any given time. They start to panic when they see uniformed police or marked cars in the streets. It does not make sense for vulnerable and often law-abiding people to become frightened of the police. We should be working to avoid that outcome.


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