Rape victim kept in psychiatric hospital for 58 years

A 75-YEAR-OLD woman who remains in a psychiatric hospital 58 years after she was involuntarily detained following a rape has spoken out about her life in a mental hospital.

In 1952, two years after the assault, 17-year-old “Josie” was involuntarily detained due to increasingly erratic behaviour. She was never let out and is still living in an institution today.

Josie claims she has been force-fed and given electric shock treatment (ECT) against her will in hospital.

Her brother, “Dave”, did not want to reveal his identity as he is afraid of how she might be treated for speaking out.

The story has come to light in an RTÉ radio documentary, Lives Less Lived, compiled by Cork-based mental health campaigner John McCarthy.

The harrowing revelations have sparked debate about the power of psychiatry when it comes to involuntarily detention. Although the law has changed since Josie was arrested and put in hospital, more than 2,000 people were involuntarily detained last year.

Josie’s brother only recently found out she is in fact no longer an involuntary patient, when for 30 years he believed she was. The only reason he learned this was when he asked permission for her to leave for the making of the documentary.

Mr McCarthy called on the Mental Health Commission to review all of its old cases involving people who were involuntary patients before the 2001 Mental Health Act, but now seem to have become voluntary patients. “How did these people, who had supposedly lacked capacity, all of a sudden have the capacity to sign forms and become voluntary patients? How and when did this happen and how many of these cases are there?” said Mr McCarthy.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Siobhan Barry said it was possible people who had come under the categorisation of “unsound mind” under the old mental health legislation may have been left in institutions. Dr Barry said such people would not qualify as involuntary patients under the new Mental Health Act, but there might not have been any other options for such patients.

Dr Pat Bracken, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director of west Cork mental health services, said it was time society had a debate about the power of psychiatry.

“There is no medical test to say whether someone is dangerous or not, no scan to confirm a diagnosis. The judgment is down to the risk or potential risk someone poses to themselves or other people,” Dr Bracken said. “You inform yourself as much as you can, get information from different sources and make a judgment on all the bits of evidence.”

Dr Bracken said the Mental Health Act gives the psychiatrist all power. “It is medically orientated and my own feeling is that’s wrong. We need to radically examine our approach.”


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