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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!"