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Monday, 5 December 2011

Exciting news in WA, plus a New National Working Party

In an exciting development, the West Australian parliament is considering overturning smoking bans in psychiatric wards in that state. To find out more, click here to read the full story.

I am currently seeking interested parties to join a new Smoking Mad National Working Party.  While I am continuing to work on getting these bans lifted, I am increasingly realising that I need help to do it. If you would like to be part of this new group, and you have ideas, skills and passion, please email me to find out more.

And finally, a good friend and campaign supporter, Doug, sent me this inspiring song which I'd like to share with you all.

Stay strong!


Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength lies solely in my tenacity.
~ Louis Pasteur

Monday, 8 August 2011

Seeking feedback on research.

I'm seeking your thoughts, ideas and suggestions...

I've been reviewing my research project into the impact of psychiatric hospital smoking bans.  It is very important that we get as many responses as possible (f we really want the results taken seriously), and I am looking what else I can do to boost numbers.

Some people have suggested that the length of my surveys may be a deterrent for some.  I'm thinking of making up a shorter, open qualitative version for people who hate forms, and maybe also a really brief '1 pager' for people in a rush.  What do you think?

Please comment on the blog or email me if you have any contributions.  Thank you :)

"Not being heard is no reason for silence."
- Victor Hugo

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

New article in 'Online Opinion'.

Have a read of this great new article about smoking bans in psychiatric wards.

It was published this week in 'Online Opinion' by Rebekah Beddoe, the author of 'Dying for a Cure'.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Encouraging possibilities.

Today I went to mediation at VCAT, between myself and representatives from The Alfred. We had some really constructive conversations and we've agreed to an ongoing process to try and find a way to resolve the issue of smoking bans in psychiatric wards.

Because mediation will be ongoing over the next 2-3 months I can't say any more than that or I'll breach the confidentiality requirements of the legal process.

Keep your comments coming though - I'm really interested to hear what others have to say about this important issue, and will continue to share what I can in this forum.

Today I am grateful to our skillful mediator, and am feeling encouraged in the possibilities that may come from acting in good faith and with integrity.

"The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions."
--Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Thinking about human rights.

Smoking is a serious health hazard … so how can I stand up and talk about human rights with regard to smoking?  

And what about the rights of non-smokers to clean air? 

This issue makes people uncomfortable, and it makes some people quite angry.

Do people really have a right to smoke? Well, no, not specifically. But look at this context - people diagnosed with mental illness do have legislated rights to:
  • make their own choices
  • have access to the best possible mental health care
  • be treated in the least restrictive manner possible
  • to not be discriminated against on the basis of our mental health
  • to not be treated in a cruel or inhumane manner, and to be treated with dignity and respect

For example, the right to make our own choices is protected under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, specifically paragraph (n) “Recognizing the importance for persons with disabilities of their individual autonomy and independence, including the freedom to make their own choices”.

Let’s also remember that I am talking about people who have been deprived of liberty and held against their will in psychiatric wards – with no crime having been committed. We are talking about people who are experiencing the most extreme levels of distress imaginable. And we are talking about an organisation (the hospital) whose aim is supposed to be alleviating that distress.

So while we may not have a specific, legislated right to smoke, in this context we do have the right not to be forced to stop smoking or to have our suffering and restrictions increased.

These are just some of the ways that our rights are being violated by enforced smoking bans:
  • Enforced smoking bans deprive people of their right to choice.
  • Enforced smoking bans increase suffering and distress.
  • Enforced smoking bans are yet another example of unnecessary and inappropriate restriction of mental health patients.
  • Enforced smoking bans are only happening to people with mental health issues – why are we being singled out?
  • Enforced smoking bans in the context of a psychiatric breakdown are cruel and inhumane.
  • Smoking bans are being enforced in a manner deprives us of dignity and respect, including physical searches for cigarettes and punishment for transgressions.

It’s easy to talk about human rights when it’s politically correct and obvious, but what happens in situations like this when the water gets muddy? There are many other scenarios which are not so clear. For example, whose rights are more important here?

The vision-impaired person with a guide dog who works as a cook, or the diner who wants their food prepared in a ‘hygienic’ environment?

The right of a nation such as China to prevent its population reaching unmanageable levels, or the rights of a couple to reproduce?

Sometimes human rights do conflict with each other. Smoking bans could be seen as one more example of that. But there is nothing to be gained by one party trying to shout down the other by claiming that their rights take precedence. Because, of course, all of our rights matter.

The ideal solution is to find a way in which all parties may have their rights addressed. Often this is not possible. However in this instance, such a solution is easily possible by the installation of smoking shelters in psych ward courtyards. Small smoking shelters are cheap, easily available, and protect non-smokers from the impact of smoke.

The installation of small smoking shelters in psychiatric ward courtyards would allow everyone’s rights to be respected.

If you have any thoughts about human rights in this context, please add your comments.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

New pages.

I've added two new pages to this site.

The first page is called Media Coverage, and will include a summary of links to all media about the Smoking Mad campaign.

The second page is called Comments and includes a summary of ALL comments made throughout this site, as well as comments collected from email, Facebook, and other sites around the web.

You can leave your comments on this page, or on any other page throughout the site.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

More media coverage, and a question to consider.

More media coverage
Have a read of the story in today's Herald Sun newspaper about the campaign.

I was also interviewed this morning on Melbourne talkback radio by Steve Price and Dermott Brereton - I'll link to the podcast once it's available.  Both interviewers were interested and supportive, even commenting that "I make a good point".

It's been delightful to get such positive feedback and support in response to the media coverage. I am continually worried that people won't be able to see past the 'apparent political incorrectness' of the issue and appreciate the very serious implications which lie beneath. It appears I underestimated people's compassion and common sense! What a lovely discovery.

Yes, it's The Alfred Hospital.
To this point I had been avoiding naming the hospital that I am taking to court. But since it's all over the news now, I guess it's ok to say that yes, it's the Alfred Hospital that I am challenging. And increasingly, they are standing alone as other hospitals lift these senseless bans.

My question for today...
Just what IS the motivation behind this policy at The Alfred? It can't really be getting people to quit, because that's not happening. It can't really be protecting non-smokers, because that's easily managed with small smoking shelters. So ... what is their reason? 

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
- Martin Luther King Jr

Channel 7 News Report.

A story about my campaign against smoking bans in psych wards was broadcast tonight on Channel 7 news. Check it out!

I was pleased with the report and felt it was very fairly balanced. I would have liked the chance to reply to Fiona Sharkie from Quit Victoria at the end of the report. So here's my reply:

"Fiona, I absolutely agree that everyone at the hospital has the right to a smokefree environment. That's why I'm asking the Alfed to install small smoking shelters in the courtyards attached to the psychiatric wards. This would allow smokers (who make up 80% of all psych patients) to smoke, and non smokers to enjoy the rest of the courtyard. Problem solved."

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

News, news, news.

It's been a busy week for the Smoking Mad campaign!

News about the news
Yesterday I was interviewed by Louise Milligan, investigative reporter for Channel 7 News. Barring any major news events, a report about this issue will be aired on the news next Monday night, 25th July. It will be really interesting to hear what the responses are from the general public.

Response from the hospital
On Monday I received the formal 'Particulars of Defence' document from the hospital for our court case. I was particularly interested in some of their replies, such as...

A comment which seems to imply that I don't actually have rights to good treatment or freedom... I quoted a section of our Mental Health Act, specifically "(4)(2)(a) People with a mental disorder are given the best possible care and treatment appropriate to their needs in the least possible restrictive environment and least possible intrusive manner consistent with the effective giving of that care and treatment".

The hospital's response was that this passage is just a "legislative aim" and that it "does not create rights enforceable in this tribunal or any other jurisdiction". Oh, OK then. I wonder if being made involuntary is also just a legislative aim? And if this is true, why is it that what authorities can do to us is 'law' but our rights are just 'aims'?

Can you make sense of this logic??? I claimed that the hospital forced me to quit smoking against my will. The hospital denies this, but does admit that I was not permitted to smoke in their buildings or grounds, and being an involuntary patient, I was also not permitted to leave the hospital grounds. Is not one a consequence of the other? And whether your consequence is intended or not, surely you are still responsible for it? "Gee officer, I deny that I was speeding, but I do admit that I pushed my foot on the accelerator a bit hard..."

Denials and delusions
From the balance of the hospital's reply, I can only conclude a deep-seated denial of reality, and a delusional belief that these smoking bans are having any kind of positive impact. The hospital:

- denies that my human rights were infringed
- denies that I was unable to comply with the ban
- denies that I was punished when caught smoking
- denies that I was publicly chastised
- denies that I suffered ineffective and harmful treatment
- denies that the ban had no impact on me actually quitting
- denies that I witnessed a patient get hit after offering oral sex to another patient
in exchange for a cigarette - and then says this is irrelevent (!)
- denies that I experienced an increase in symptoms because of the ban
- denies that I did not call for help during further relapses because of fear of the ban.

Oh dear. Well, we have mediation next week, which should be a great opportunity to thrash out these issues in more detail. I am looking forward to the chance to actually talk about the issue face to face. I really do hope that we can find a solution in mediation, it would be so much more civilised than continuing legal action.

Some good news
I heard yesterday that Eastern Health have revised their policies about smoking bans, which includes the Austin Hospital lifting its smoking ban.  Thumbs up to Eastern Health for putting consumer interests ahead of poorly conceived policy!

I've also heard reports that St Vincents Hospital have reversed their ban and even installed a smoking shelter in their courtyard. If anyone can confirm this, please let me know!

Feedback from the Trenches
Don't get too mad, or they'll think you're mad... I spoke to a consumer this week who was admitted to the psych ward over the weekend. He was forced to quit, and after 3 days of withdrawal he finally got to see the consultant psychiatrist. He told the psychiatrist to please not assume that his extreme anger was due to his mental health condition because he was going nuts without his cigarettes. The reply from the psychiatrist? "Don't tell me how to do my job". Hang in there buddy.

If physical health is a priority, why not deal with the real issues... A group of consumers talked with me about the campaign last Wednesday. All of the women wanted to know why it was that if hospitals were really so concerned about our physical health (as they claim to be in their justifications for smoking bans), why they aren't proactively managing the health impacts of the medications they prescribe? Women talked about developing morbid obesity, diabetes and other serious conditions as side effects of their medication. They all said that no preventative medical treatment was provided for these conditions, despite them being being common and well known side effects. Any thoughts?

Thanks for all the support... Thank you so much to all the people who are emailing me with messages of support. Please keep sending them! This is a tough campaign, but it really helps my strength to know how important this issue is to so many of you.  But stop telling me I'm 'courageous' - it makes me nervous!

And a special thank you to the mental health professionals who have sent messages of support. It's great to know that so many of you are on our side, and that you understand the ludicrousness of these inhumane policies. For all of you who risk reprimand but still 'turn a blind eye' when you see people smoking at hospital, thank you for your humanity.

With but few exceptions, it is always the underdog who wins through sheer willpower.
- Johnny Weismuller

Monday, 11 July 2011

Donations, publicity & early findings from my research

Hi everyone,

While I am eagerly waiting for the hospital to file their 'particulars of defence' (their official response to my complaint), various other exciting things have been happening.

Legal fund donations
I've received the first donation towards my legal fund - a very generous $100 from Carol. Thank you Carol - your support is helpng all consumers to defend our rights.
Visit my How to Help page if you'd like to make a donation (nothing is too small!).

Article published in 'Our Consumer Place' Newsletter
Our Consumer Place, a fantastic online resource for mental health consumers, has published my new article about how smoking bans hurt consumers. In the article I talk about how the smoking bans affected me last year, as well as reviewing many of the broader issues.

Early research results
I am continuing to get people to complete my research surveys, and so far the feedback overwhelmingly supports my case. Some early research results:

100% reported an increase in mental health symptoms in response to the bans
60% were 'punished' by hospital staff when trying to smoke
60% were not offered any information or counselling about quitting while in hospital
80% were not offered any information or support about quitting on discharge
40% smoked in risky situations while in hospital
60% conducted 'illegal trade' for ciagerettes while in hospital - including trading money, favours, possessions, food and sex.
40% were threatened/intimidated for cigarettes while in hospital
20% saw other patients get assaulted over cigarettes
80% lied to their doctors to get an early discharge because of the bans
80% are now less likely to voluntarily go to hospital because of the bans
100% did not quit smoking successfully

While these are only interim results, they are shocking indictment on the mental health services who continue to enforce these bans.

They show that hospitals continue to enforce a policy which has no positve health benefits, but which does put patients at risk of harm, reduces our quality of mental health care, limits our access to services, and creates mistrust and ill will. To add insult to injury, the bans are being poorly implemented, with little to no information, counselling or discharge support and inappropriate punishment of consumers who contravene the policy.

The campaign continues...

"Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes!"

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Marathons and motorbikes.

Marathon runners put themselves at risk of cardiac failure. It’s a completely selfish activity that can use up precious health resources on self-inflicted injuries. And worse, they smell. Who hasn’t been forced to breathe in a whiff of ‘BO’ as a runner pounded past you? Don’t I have a right to breathe air that isn’t drenched in other people’s foul odours? I suspect these poor deluded runners are so overpowered by endorphins that their decision-making capacities have been compromised. It’s in their – and our – best interest to ban marathons.

Motorbike riders are another completely irresponsible group. Not only does their ‘hobby’ put themselves at serious risk of injury or even death, but the rest of us too! The health system is already stretched without people taking ridiculous risks. And the emissions of their bikes are terrible – noise AND air pollution.

Why don’t we BAN motorbikes and marathon running? It would be in everyone’s best interests – including these poor deluded individuals who don’t know any better.

Maybe it’s because of these concepts called freedom and self-determination.

There’s a radical idea that all humans have the right to self-determination. To make choices that others may not agree with. To make mistakes, even!

Maybe it’s also because life necessarily involves a degree of risk. Risk is not necessarily bad. Risk also brings with it a confirmation of life, the opportunity for growth, and an inherent dignity.

By the way, I don’t actually have any issue with marathon runners or bikers – go for it, my friends. Feel the thrill.

I guess I was just pondering the new Gandhi quote I’ve found, and that led me to think of metaphors for the situation of smoking psychiatric patients.

The metaphors may be flawed, but I hope the thought sparkles.

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes"
~ Gandhi

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Fundraising for legal expenses - please help if you can.

Hi everyone!

I've decided that it's in my interests to seek some specialist legal advice about my upcoming hearing.  While I can't afford full representation, one or two meetings might be manageable.  I believe this will cost me around $400, so I've set up a little Paypal 'Donate' button on this blog (just scroll down the page to item 5).  If you are able to contribute anything at all - even a couple of dollars, please help out.  Any money donated will be used for legal expenses to fight this campaign.  Assuming I do get donations, I'll publish the amounts and what they have been spent on.

"Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes"  ~ Gandhi


Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Support from 'VMIAC' and 'Consumers in Action'

I have just received this fantastic letter of support for the Smoking Mad campaign (see below). Thank you so much to everyone at Consumers in Action!  By working together I believe we CAN get these inhumane and cruel bans on psychiatric wards lifted. Having support from non-smoking consumers is particularly gratifying!

I now also have official support for my campaign from the Victorian Mental Illness Awareness Council (VMIAC). Consumer advocates at VMIAC constantly have to witness the extreme distress and risk that these bans cause mental health patients, and they are keen to see the bans lifted.

Thank you to everyone. Please remember to complete a survey, and to tell other people about them as well. I need lots of responses from consumers who have been affected by the ban in order for the research to be considered seriously.

Hospitals may have the legal right to deprive us of liberty – but we have the right to be treated with dignity, humanity, safety and fairness!

Hi Indigo,
I have been asked to pass along personal messages of support from a Western Suburbs consumer group in Melbourne, 'Consumers in Action', who have heard of your struggle against compulsory cessation of smoking in psychiatric hospitals.
Even though half the group do not smoke, all people present felt your work concerned an important human rights issue which they would be keen to support.
And they also wanted me to thank you personally for your effort, courage and organisation. And express their personal wish to help your campaign in any way they can.
They will be circulating the survey and publicising the campaign.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Serving papers today!

I have finished writing my 'particulars of complaint' as ordered by the tribunal, and today I am serving them on the hospital. It's taken a lot of work to identify all of the acts and sections which the hospital have breached because of their smoking bans, but I think I have it all sorted out.

Not having legal representation has left me feeling rather nervous about whether my paperwork correctly addresses the issues. I can't help but think that this process of claiming discrimination is heavily weighted in favour of discriminators. Of course discrimination is more often committed by large organisations with substantial resources for legal advice. And of course those complaining of discrimination are often financially disadvantaged and unable to access legal advice.

It feels like access to justice is very uneven. Let's hope that the outcomes of this case prove me wrong!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

We have lift off!

Hi everyone. Sorry for the delay in posting - it's been a wild week.

Well, I went to the directions hearing at VCAT on Monday. The hospital's lawyer asked for my complaint to remain 'struck out' because it was frivolous. Naturally I argued against that and the deputy president agreed that the complaint had enough merit to justify a full hearing! The hearing date has been set for 27th October this year.

In the meantime, I need to file the particulars of my complaint, next month there will be mediation (that should be interesting!), then witness statements get filed.

While I got the outcome I was hoping for, I did find the whole process very disempowering. The deputy president asked the hospital's lawyer to explain what the case was about, rather than me! I was given very little opportunity to speak which I found extremely frustrating. And again I was told that smoking is not 'an attribute acknowledged under the Equal Opportunity Act' - however the deputy president did listen to one of my three arguments regarding this. A number of legal points were raised which I need to investigate. I think that I may need to hire a lawyer - even just for a few sessions - to check out some of the legal details - so watch out for a legal fundraising campaign to start on my Facebook site this weekend...

The campaign for freedom and fairness lives to fight another day!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Time for an update.

Well lots has been happening, not the least of which has been an extraordinary number of administrative 'errors' and let downs.

The not so good news...

My lawyer decided not to represent me any more. And then I got a letter from VCAT saying that my complaint had been struck out. I ring to enquire... 'Oh, sorry, it was an administrative error, we didn't notice your fax saying you wanted to proceed'. Oh, OK then. Odd. I am told I will get a letter with a new hearing date in the next 2- 3 weeks.

Excitedly I check my letterbox every day, only to get a letter after 3 weeks which says that I missed my hearing! What?! Well this time, I ring, I fax and I post, and am told that another hearing has been scheduled. When the letter finally comes, it says that the hearing is to discuss whether my complaint should be 'reinstated'. I never knew it was 'uninstated'!

The new directions hearing is set for 6th June, at 10am. If you can come and offer support you will be very welcome! It's at VCAT, 55 King Street, Melbourne. I'll be the one out front 15 minutes before, smoking.

On the good news side, there are some great new developments in the campaign:

1. A psychiatric nurse has come forward willing to testify for the cause! Someone with the courage to back her convictions - she's my hero!

2. The Austin psychiatric hospital in Melbourne has recently withdrawn their smoking ban, thanks to the persistance and courage of their nursing staff. Props to you all!

3. The first of my research surveys are now live on this blog (see the tab above called "Research: Have your say"). If you are a smoker who has experienced these bans, PLEASE take the time to complete a survey. Let your voice be heard!

Saturday, 9 April 2011

The first hearing and some reflection.

February – March 2011: The directions hearing was held at VCAT. It was pretty intimidating – my lawyer had an asthma attack and couldn’t come so I had to get by on my own. The sitting member advised that she didn’t think I would win the case, and suggested that I use other means to resolve the dispute. I was given another month to consider.

After long consideration, I decided that, no matter how tough the case may be, it is important to move forward. Besides, there is no other means available that I can see. Those of us with mental health issues rarely get a voice, and if I don’t stand up here, who will? I’m reminded of that quote “all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” While I think this ban has more to do with paternalism and inflexibility than ‘evil’ (and I have issues with the inherent misogyny of the quote), the principle still stands. So, I’ve decided, will I. I’m waiting now for a hearing date.

I make a commitment to fight this unjust ban.

December 2010: By now, I am getting particularly mad. Not crazy mad, but angry mad.

Sure, this isn't the most important issue in mental health; but it’s a symbol of the larger issues. These bans represent a lack of respect for people in vulnerable and difficult circumstances. For all the talk about consumer participation, I am seeing a complete disregard for our needs and opinions.

As though involuntary treatments of medications, ECT (shock treatments), being locked in seclusion or restraints are not enough of an insult to our dignity and rights, we are now deprived of the simple act of smoking a cigarette. And worse, this happens when we are at our most distressed.

These bans are cruel, inappropriate and discriminatory – and they don’t help anyone. Other people in Australia are entitled to quit smoking on their own terms. Even the two other groups in society who, like us, are deprived of liberty – prisoners and refugees in detention centres – are allowed to smoke. So why are mental health patients singled out in this way?

Sure, quitting is a great idea. But enforced quitting in the midst of an acute psychiatric breakdown is ludicrous.

At this point I decided that I was utterly committed to fight this ban to the bitter end. So I asked VEOHRC to refer my complaint to the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) on my request, to be heard as an anti-discrimination case.

The hospital refuses to budge, and the human rights commission can't help.

4 – 25 November 2010: The hospital made a response to the VEOHRC, justifying their policy by suggesting that they are simply discharging their ‘duty of care’.

I responded to the VEOHRC that I was extremely unsatisfied with the Hospital’s response. I said I was interested in taking the matter to conciliation. The VEOHRC was very encouraging, and said that my situation did indeed sound discriminatory, and also that most of the hospital’s responses were irrelevant to my complaint.

But, by the 25th, the VEOHRC had to close my complaint as it ‘did not consider it reasonably possible that the complaint may be conciliated successfully’. In other words, the hospital was completely unwilling to discuss the matter or consider any type of compromise.

Clearly the hospital wasn't going to do anything, so I took it to the Human Rights Commission.

25 September 2010: I made a formal complaint about the smoking ban to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) – on grounds that it was discriminatory. Five days later they opened an investigation into my complaint.

I end up in hospital again, so I do a little research

31 May 2010: I conducted a small study on fellow inpatients about the impact of the ban and found I wasn’t alone in my anger and distress. I tried to survey the nurses too, but was told that their contracts forbid them from speaking against hospital policy.  Secretly though, five separate nurses talked to me about how much they hate the bans and don't want to enforce them.  I couldn’t understand why this was happening.

I get a response from Australia Hospital

1 April 2010.  An extract from their letter:

“Australia Hospital has considered the issue of no-smoking carefully and remains committed to promotion of the policy within the acute hospital setting. The impacts of passive smoking on other patients, staff and visitors have been registered as complaints over time. It is important to note that the acute hospital setting is not a place of residence but is a hospital that’s (sic) focus is to enhance and improve health outcomes. It is worth noting that no-smoking has been implemented within the high dependency units for over 4 years and we continue to work with strengthening the implementation of the no-smoking across the acute inpatient units.”

(Acting Quality and Risk Manager, Psychiatry)

I make my first official complaint.

22 March 2010:  After being forced to quit smoking during a psychiatric hospital admission, I wrote a letter of complaint to 'Australia Hospital'*.

*Because I have legal action pending, I won't use the real name of the hospital.  Instead I'll refer to them as 'Australia Hospital'.  Since these bans are happening all over the country, it's probably an appropriate name.