The Botany MP is experiencing mental illness – and he, like the women he has hurt, and his family, are as deserving of help and support as anyone else. Public speculation and privacy violations only serve to hinder this, writes Scout Barbour-Evans
Scout Barbour-Evans is an expert in being mentally ill, living with PTSD, Bipolar Disorder and recovering from Anorexia Nervosa. They are passionate about equitable access to healthcare, whether mental or physical, reducing stigma around mental illness, and improving the mental health system.
On Saturday, now-Independent MP Jami-Lee Ross was detained by police and admitted to a psychiatric ward under the Mental Health (Compulsory Assessment and Treatment) Act. According to this and to the Privacy Act, the only people who should know this has happened are his immediate family, the Speaker of the House, and any police, ambulance and mental health staff who may have seen him in this time of crisis. So why is it public knowledge that he is in hospital?
It’s striking that a mere two weeks after Mental Health Awareness Week, everyone’s suddenly forgotten that they had been prancing around singing about nature and reducing the stigma of mental illness. The public speculation is hideous. Tin-foil hat types have sprung up everywhere crying political conspiracy, demanding his treatment information from the authorities. The media have been just as atrocious – Newshub even publicised which hospital Jami-Lee had been admitted to.
The women who have come forward alleging abuse or harassment by him have been blamed by commentators for his breakdown. MPs in the National Party, his former colleagues and indeed “friends”, have proved they’ve never really cared about mentally ill people either through their vile insults, comments and statements using words like “embarrassing”, “deranged” and the like.
The public are in shock. “He was detained by police!”, they’re crying, as if the New Zealand Police don’t have special responsibilities under the Mental Health Act to escort someone in crisis to safety.
“He doesn’t have his phone!” they moan, as if to say that even if phones were permitted on most psych wards, a person can pause their acute psychiatric crisis to pack a suitcase and take the dog to the kennel like they’re going on a nice wee holiday.
“They’re gonna force him to have electroconvulsive therapy!”, they agonize, as if there aren’t special safeguards to ensure this therapy isn’t misused and that other more suitable treatments aren’t tried first.
“This is unprecedented!”, they bray, as if there are not New Zealanders being assessed and treated under the Mental Health Act every day out of sheer need.
“All branches of New Zealand government need to step up and give us more information!”, the public hollers, conveniently forgetting that members of parliament don’t actually give up their right to privacy in their personal life upon election like we like to think they do.
Look, let me be straight up here. Can New Zealand just collectively take a deep breath and stop being eggs about this for like two minutes? Jami-Lee Ross might have abused and harassed women, and might be a member of parliament, but the minute we pick and choose whom we apply human rights to is the minute those rights begin to be eroded for the general public.
Every one of us in New Zealand has a right to healthcare, and a right to privacy. Our mental health system is shockingly under-resourced, and being put under the Mental Health Act is one of the most disempowering, terrifying experiences you can ever have. It’s also really hard to be put under, and even harder to be admitted to a psych ward. Nobody is using the Mental Health Act as political weaponry because it is stretched to the max already. If someone is under the Mental Health Act, it means they are genuinely, seriously, majorly unwell and it is a last resort.
So let’s stop speculating, yeah? Because it’s Tuesday after Labour Weekend, so the week has just started, and not only is it gonna be hell for Jami-Lee’s family and the women he has hurt, but it’s gonna be hell for the thousands of New Zealanders who have been in a psychiatric ward, who have been under the Mental Health Act, or who have had to sign the paperwork for someone they’re close to to be committed under the Mental Health Act.
Jami-Lee happens to be experiencing mental illness – and he is just as deserving of help and support as anyone else. The women he has hurt, and his family, are also deserving of this help and support. Public speculation and privacy violations only serve to hinder this.
Mental illness is serious, and it’s scary. It’s also survivable, and you can even thrive alongside it. I promise. Mental illness does not make someone inherently abusive or harmful or “bad”. The kindest, sweetest people in my life have been people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or any other mental illness. You don’t have to be mentally ill to be an egg.
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Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland.
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For more information about support and services available to you, contact the Mental Health Foundation’s free Resource and Information Service on 09 623 4812 during office hours or email firstname.lastname@example.org