Mental health experts are calling for the end to the practice of locking up and restraining patients in hospitals during mental breakdowns.
Children as young as seven are being routinely held down by hospital staff and thrown into seclusion rooms in public hospitals across Australia.
Beau Turner, the mother of seven-year-old Saxon, saw her son held face down by five staff members.
“If he was ‘extra bad’ they would then chuck him on the floor there and then and put him in like a hand-restraint, usually with his arms behind his back and two people would sit side by side and hold him, sometimes with a towel over his head,” Ms Turner told the ABC’s 7.30 program.
Ms Turner says Saxon was forcibly placed into the seclusion room “almost every day” during his stay in the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit at Victoria’s Austin Hospital last August.
“He hated it, absolutely hated it,” Ms Turner said.
“As soon as he was in there, yelling and screaming, he’d just want me, he’d be fretting for me.
“As soon as they let him out he’d run and have another meltdown, I guess, because he was in there. So clearly it didn’t work.”
Kerrin Hall’s 10-year-old son suffered bruising and cuts to his body as a result of being restrained by staff in the same unit in August this year.
“He had bruising under his right eye,” Ms Hall said.
“He had welts on his left shoulder and slight bruising where he’d been grabbed.
“I was disgusted. I felt helpless.
“I felt like the most useless mother in the world that I couldn’t even protect my child from this happening.”
Seclusion is the practice of confining a patient alone in a room or area which is locked and the person is not free to leave.
Mental Health Commission chairman Professor Allan Fels says the organisation has had more complaints about seclusion and restraint than anything else.
“It is a sign of a mental health system not working well, when so many people have seclusion and restraint,” Professor Fels said.
“It’s kind of the last step when the whole system fails, as it so often does.”
Ms Hall says her son was deeply traumatised after being held down and put into the Austin’s “chill out” room – the name given to the seclusion room in the adolescent unit.
“Sweat was just drenching off his body. He said: ‘I promise I’ll be a good boy, Mummy. Take me home, I don’t want them to do this to me anymore, they’ve hurt me. Nobody loves me. You promised me that they’d help me and all they have done is f*** my head even more. I hate it here, I want to go home and I want to die.'”
Despite perceptions that seclusion and restraint are the only options for out-of-control kids, Ms Turner’s son Saxon has been living at Berry Street residential care – a non-government welfare organisation – for the last two months and he has not been restrained or secluded once.
“I’ve just found them absolutely wonderful and the organisation should have a medal for what they’ve done for Saxon,” Ms Turner said.
The head of psychiatric department at the Austin Hospital is determined to eliminate all seclusions in the child unit after learning about the two recent cases from 7.30.
Professor Richard Newton has been a passionate opponent of seclusion and restraint, particularly of children.
“It upsets me terribly,” he told 7.30.
“But what it leads me to is we just have to find a new way to address this and stop it and do better.”
Children more likely to be locked up, restrained
Children in Australia’s public hospitals fare worse than adults.
According to figures released last week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, children and adolescents are more likely to experience seclusion than adult patients.
The Mental Health Commission is calling on Australians to sign a petition calling for the elimination of seclusion and restraint of all patients in the healthcare system.
“It’s a very substantial intrusion on your human rights to be strapped to a bed or to be given chemicals or medicines to quieten you down or to be locked in a room,” Professor Fels said.
“It should only be done as a last resort not as a first resort.”
Ms Hall says the weeks she spent in the Austin Hospital’s child and adolescent unit with her 10-year-old son still haunts her.
“There are children in there that – their voices will forever echo in my mind. The screams, seeing them restrained, seeing them put in the chill out room, have given me nightmares,” she said.
This article first appeared on ‘ABC News’ on 10 December 2013.