My First Mental Health Review Board Hearing (May 1995)

Some of the nurses at Royal Park were sympathetic. I remember one telling me, “I know, Romesh, that there’s nothing wrong with you, but you have to play the game if you want to get out of here”. Playing the game meant admitting that you were ill when you were first admitted and swallowing the tablets you were given without protest. The nurses also told me that I could apply for a Mental Health Review Board hearing, which was supposedly “independent of the hospital”, though held on the hospital premises. I was told I could have legal representation and, knowing no other lawyers, I asked the solicitor who had done the Groove-On contracts, David Hancock (who was a friend of Anthony Dymke), to represent me. I asked Sara to come to the hearing too, as my support person. I was confident that I would released, but my optimism was unfounded.

The lawyer David was out of his depth. He did a poor job of refuting Owen’s arguments. He asked if I was a risk to others or myself. Owen admitted that I was not a risk to others, but could damage my own professional reputation. This is ironic indeed. What damaged my professional career was the hospital writing to the Medical Board saying that I was mentally ill, and my family spreading the rumour that I was in and out of mental hospitals.

The Board consisted of a lawyer (in charge), a psychiatrist and a ‘community member’. Tony Owen represented the hospital.  I didn’t know at this stage that less than 5% of appeals to get off CTOs are successful. Owen also told an anecdote that I could see swayed the board members, especially the community member, who nodded in agreement with him. He said that he once had a young patient who was pleasant and intelligent (“like Romesh”) but hypomanic. He said the patient escaped from hospital and drove at high speed, killing a pedestrian. The fact that this was merely an anecdote and I have always been a careful driver (I haven’t ever had a serious accident) escaped the board, and I sensed that I might not win my discharge after all. Indeed I did not. I lost the appeal and was returned to the locked ward. I begged Owen not to send me back there. “Don’t you have any compassion?” I asked. His answer was callous. “I once had a bit of compassion, but it has shrivelled right up”.

I went into my room, threw myself down on the bed and wept for the first time since my admission. I then decided to escape. I phoned Sara and asked her to come and collect my wallet. She did so. I then rang her back and asked me to come and visit me again. This time I asked the nurses, who were sympathetic, if I could go for a brief stroll on the grounds and have a cigarette with Sara. They allowed me to do so. Once I was out of the doors I told Sara to keep walking. We hastened our pace as a nurses came out calling for me to return. We walked quickly to the carpark and got in Sara’s car. She was as white as a ghost. I was shaking with fear too.

Sara then dropped me off in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy where my studio was located and went home. She was later visited by police, asking if she’d helped me escape. Shortly afterwards she left the country and went to Europe.

Finding the studio locked, I walked around to Anthony Dymke’s place. I was shaken and my legs wouldn’t stop trembling. I discussed my situation with Anthony and his wife and they suggested that I leave the state. I didn’t have any money, since the State Trustees had frozen my back accounts, so Anthony bought me a ticket for a coach to Queensland the next day. I headed up to Brisbane thinking my ordeal was over. It had only just begun.

 

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