My debate with Brett Emmerson turns out badly

 

I had visited Prince Charles Hospital in Chermside as a medical student and later worked there as a paediatric registrar on placement from the Royal Children’s Hospital back in 1986. My responsibility was to look after babies, infants and children recovering from and preparing for open heart surgery, which was performed by adult cardiac surgeons, there not being any dedicated paediatric cardiac surgeons in Brisbane at the time. It was very demanding work, and as the only “paed”, much responsibility was placed on my 25-year-old shoulders. My reward was that I was treated with respect by the staff. It was very different when, on 7 June 1995, I was admitted as an involuntary patient to the Winston Noble Unit, the hospital’s psychiatry unit.

I was referred to the hospital by Brett Emmerson, then Director of Mental Health at the Logan Hospital. Emmerson is currently Director of Psychiatry at the Royal Brisbane Hospital and the Metro North Addiction and Mental Health Services. He was previously the Chief Psychiatrist of Queensland, and before that the Director of Psychiatry at the PA Hospital (where his father, Bryan, had been a medical professor when Brett and I studied at the University of Queensland).

Brett and I go back a long way. It is he who drove my family from the Brisbane airport to the house of his parents, Bryan and Elva, in January 1976, when Bryan had supported my father’s application as a consultant physician at the Princess Alexandra (PA) hospital. Brett was then 18 and about to enter the medical course at Queensland Uni. His younger brother Stephen, who was a talented musician was friendly to me, more so than Brett.

I saw Brett occasionally when we were at Uni and spoke to him when I did, and when my father brought him to my parents’ house to certify me as insane on a Sunday night in June 1995 I greeted him amicably and extended my hand:
“It’s good to see an old friend”
“Let’s get this clear – I did not come here as a friend”, he replied, refusing my handshake.

“Oh”, I said, “I see”.

 

I then debated with Brett for 3 hours, while he became more and more irate. I criticised the psychiatry disease model and challenged his knowledge of the criteria for a diagnosis of mania, which he was accusing me of having. He was very defensive about his profession, as I expected him to be, but didn’t care about. I also tried explaining to him my theories about the pineal, the mysterious gland in the brain that secretes melatonin (which he knew nothing about). I had read that the pineal may function as a magneto-sensory organ (a theory popularised by Robert Becker in the 1980s) and told him about this, as well as my theories on the causation of autism and schizophrenia. In his intake referral form Emmerson claimed that I had “delusional beliefs about the pineal and the causation of schizophrenia and autism”. Meanwhile my father sat silently in the next room recording the debate on a dictophone. I enjoyed the debate, Brett didn’t.

 

After 3 hours of increasingly heated debate, Brett told me that he was certifying me and that I would have to go into hospital. At this stage I rang one of my friends, who was a doctor I was staying with after coming back to Brisbane following my escape from Melbourne’s Royal Park Hospital. At this stage I didn’t understand the role my father had played in the Melbourne incarceration, and had come to Brisbane seeking my parents’ support for my sanity. I was allowed to go home with my friends, but the order had been made by Emmerson and my father, and the police picked me up the next day when I refused to go to the hospital.

 

I was then locked up for 6 weeks at the Prince Charles Hospital. Emmerson did not visit me nor did my father, and nobody asked me about my theories about the pineal, schizophrenia and autism, which I would have been happy to discuss, and were the supposed subject of my ‘delusions’. Instead, I was drugged with antipsychotic drugs, first by mouth and then by injection, under the authority of Dr John Bowles and his registrar Philip Bird. The diagnosis they made was one of “paranoid psychosis”, having been unable to confirm Emmerson’s claim that I had mania by direct observations of my behaviour (I slept, ate and talked normally in their estimate and did not have an elevated mood). I was said to be “paranoid” that my father wanted me locked up for his and not my interests and had conspired with other family members against me to get me certified and vilified.

 

My weeks at Prince Charles Hospital were very traumatic, especially the first 3 weeks when I was held in the locked ward and forced to take oral haloperidol syrup. The consultant John Bowles was rude and dismissive and told me that I would be treated “the same as the other patients” and that he was not interested in discussing my theories with me.

Consequently, the report written by John Bowles to the Patient Review Tribunal (PRT, the Queensland equivalent of the MHRB in Victoria) does not mention my theories on schizophrenia, autism, the pineal and other scientific matters that Brett Emmerson had claimed were ‘delusions” and evidence of mania. Instead, he wrote, on 18 July 1995:

“Romesh (R.S.) was sent to T.P.C.H. after regulation 21(1) by Dr B. Emmerson because as a doctor who had previously worked in S.E.Qld Romesh was known in other hospitals. [I had, in fact, worked at the Prince Charles Hospital, too]. He believes the 21(1) order was ill founded and illegal and has sought legal opinion to contest his admission as an involuntary patient. Dr Emmerson had in fact spent an extensive period of time making an evaluation on both direct and co-lateral evidence and sought admission and treatment for R.S. on the basis of a psychotic illness.

“In brief R.S. claims that many and several opinions of doctors both here and in Victoria are incorrect, biased by misinformation from R.S.’ family (mother, father, sister and wife) and as such he is/was the victim of an elaborate and extensive conspiracy to denigrate and incarcerate him. He proclaims that the primary adversary is his father who is intolerant of R.S’ preferred lifestyle, philosophy, attitude toward conventional medicine and intellectual independence. R.S. then contends that Dr Senewiratne (snr) has had inordinate influence over those psychiatrists and others who have been put in a position to make judgements and decisions about R.S. his ideas, behaviour and reactions to the circumstances that surround him.”

In this three-paged report Bowles wrote that he was not able to confirm the previous diagnosis of hypomania, but he believed there was “sufficient evidence of a paranoid psychosis” on the basis of:

  1. Manifest paranoia – his insistent belief that he was a victim of contrived persecution from multiple sources.
  2. An unrealistic appraisal of his present circumstances especially in view of his deregistration [I had not been deregistered] and prospects of re-instatement as a medical practitioner.
  3. A persistent drive for litigation against those who sought to help him but opposed his point of view.
  4. A propensity to misinterpret information in his own end and distort information given to various people.
  5. His insistence that he had a special means of idiosyncratic communication with his daughter in Victoria. This was of a such a degree that it alarmed his mother as being bizarre and incomprehensible. (She may report this independently to the Tribunal).

Interestingly, given subsequent events, Bowles did not mention the key role of Robert Purssey in spreading rumours about me and getting me locked up. This may be because Robert’s father, Brian Purssey, was the Director of the Greenslopes Repatriation (Veteran’s) Hospital in Brisbane and known to him. Later Robert Purssey moved up from Melbourne with my sister and was employed by the Prince Charles Hospital as a psychiatry registrar under John Bowles himself. A curious omission indeed.

The truth is that I believed, with good reason, that my family were persecuting me and conspiring against me in order to get me locked up. They were maintaining that I was psychotic and had “mania”, as is evidenced by the numerous letters they wrote behind my back, with requests that the letters not be disclosed to me (they weren’t at first but were some were later under FOI). Bowles himself confirmed that this was a misdiagnosis and that despite observing me for six weeks I did not show evidence of mania (an elevated, expansive or irritable mood, reduced need for sleep, grandiosity, flight of ideas and other such symptoms). Yet this was the diagnosis made by Brett Emmerson when I was admitted to the hospital and by Robert Purssey and my father in their letters to the psychiatrists. It was also the provisional diagnosis made before I was admitted to the Royal Park Hospital, but downgraded to a non-psychotic “hypomania” diagnosis in the discharge summary. I was justified in refusing treatment for “hypomania”, and the justification comes from no less an authority that the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that stated in its then current DSM IV that hypomania is not associated with psychosis, that it does not require hospitalisation or drug treatment and can, in some individuals lead to an increase in accomplishments, creativity and efficiency.

The reference to an “special means of idiosyncratic communication” with my daughter stems from my mother telling John Bowles that I said I could sense that my daughter was being hit by her mother. This was understandable concern and I rang my sister as asked her if Ruby was being hit. “I don’t think she’s hit enough”, was her cruel response. It made me very worried about her, but I did not say that I had a “special means of idiosyncratic communication” with her.

 

While I was in Prince Charles I made many friends, including Mark, who had been locked up for mania, too. Mark actually had gone mad, after ingesting large quantities of amphetamine and developing delusions about X and Y chromosomes. He thought if he swallowed extra Y chromosomes in the form of semen he could become a superman. He also convinced one of his friends to do the same, but when he went to Mt Cootha, where the TV stations are located and demanded to be put on air, he was arrested and subsequently certified into the Winston Noble Unit. I explained to Mark the scientific facts about X and Y chromosomes and why his theory was delusional, and he accepted what I said. It confirmed my view that delusions can be cured with reasonable, fact-based debate.

Due to the drugs I found it hard to write, but I persevered and wrote several essays on my developing health model for the neurosciences, which I showed to Mark’s mother Kay, who was a teacher. She said. “You’re just a New Age philosopher, I don’t know what you are doing here.” Kay then offered for me to stay, rent free, at a house she owned, allowing for me to be discharged from Prince Charles Hospital, an act of kindness to a stranger that I will be eternally grateful for.

I stayed in this house for a month, during which time I wrote many poems and did line drawings of my experience as a catharsis. I was very lonely, and didn’t have access to the phone or a car. I had written to the State Trustees asking that my car be sent up to me from Melbourne but the State Trustee Peter Sier wrote back that after paying the lawyers and accountant there were “insufficient funds” to do so. He also said that my practice company, studio and Groove-On Records had been closed and my house was to be put up for sale, and that he had consented for my ex-wife Susan to have custody of our daughter, Ruby. I was furious, but unable to do anything about it other than write poems and draw. I didn’t have access to a guitar, and anyway I was too Parkinsonian to play.

In August 1995 I was allowed by Bowles to return to Melbourne on the proviso that I agree to see Norman James at the Royal Park Hospital on my return. My mother insisted on coming with me, first to Melbourne and then to see Norman James. It was very stressful with Sue, who had been informed by phone, during her holiday in Spain with Ruby and my mother, that I had gone mad and needed to “go” into hospital.” I didn’t need to go there”, I tried to explain,” I was taken there by force by the police”, but Sue wasn’t interested. She thought that this was the new me. I had been transformed from a kind, jolly, considerate husband to an angry madman who sat there and stared without moving. She didn’t understand that my anger was justified and I sat there immobile because I was still partially paralysed from the flupenthixol injections. She told my mother, “I can’t have him here.  He’ll have to leave”. I went and stayed a night with Michael Butera in St Kilda and the next day I rented a house at 4 Eastgate Street, Oakleigh, where I slowly recovered from my ordeal.

After she helped me escape, Sara was questioned by the police. She was stressed by this and went overseas to Europe, visiting relatives in Italy and Spain. In October 1995 she returned to Melbourne and found that I was well, living alone in Oakleigh and preparing my first book “Alpha State : A State of Mind for the New Age” for publication. This book was a collection of my writings while I was locked up, which my mother agreed to pay for the typing of. With a single typed copy of the manuscript I contacted Channel 7’s Today Tonight program. They asked me for an interview, which was recorded in my house at Oakleigh, but never went to air.  I also gave a radio interview for the PBS station which was aired in October 1995. Robert recorded this interview and sent it to Bill Robinson in support of his allegation that I had mania and needed treatment.

I spent a lot of time with Sara during the months that followed and she was at my house when the CAT team from Monash appeared on my doorstep with police on the night of 29 February the next year (1996).

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.

 

Robert Purssey’s “Mania” Campaign

In late 1994, I began to have what I called “insights”. Others call these “epiphanies”, using a Christian term. A lawyer I met in 1995 described my experience as “kundalini rising”, using a Hindu term. I had many of these every day and found that the insights increased when I smoked ganja, which I had done since I was a medical student, doing an elective in Mt Isa. In retrospect I accepted the verisimilitude of my insights without adequate consideration and criticism, though I did have some good ideas, including the insight that communication, curiosity and play are instincts. I also had insights about the tyranny of clock-time, the development of aesthetic appreciation with experience, and the role of the reticular activating system and the pineal organ in the brain and how health could be improved by what we look at and listen to, paying attention to what comes in though our eyes and ears, in addition to what comes in through the mouth. These insights formed the basis of a complex theory of motivation that I developed in early 1995, coinciding with the time that my family started suggesting that I was mad and trying to get me locked up and forcibly “treated”.

When you are excited your need for sleep decreases. I was excited about several things. One was my insights into holistic health, the limitations of my reductionist education, problems of competitiveness in society (for which reason I established Groove-On records), science (especially neuroscience and psychology) and creativity, especially in music. The other was Sara, who I was infatuated with. It was Sara, who didn’t think I was mad, that helped me escape from Royal Park the second time, driving me to Fitzroy and dropping me off in Brunswick Street, near my studio, which I had established in 1993, and where I used to practice with my band as well as record my own music long into the night, when I was still living in Richmond with Sue. To my dismay the studio was locked and I couldn’t get in, so I went around to my friend Anthony Dymke’s house nearby. Anthony was the bass player in my band The Figgs and was also a co-director of Groove-On Records, the recording company I had established in late 1994 ahead of the Groove-On Concert in February 1995, when we professionally recorded the bands Curtis Late, Sedan and Those Acapelicans at a special concert at the Prince Patrick Hotel in Collingwood.  The recording was done by Harry Williamson of Spring Studios in Prahran, with plans to have further recorded concerts of Melbourne bands and release compilation CDs of their live performances.

I was motivated to establish Groove-On Records as part of an effort to promote cooperation and mutual respect among young musicians, rather than competition, which I saw as a pervasive problem. I recognised how good the Melbourne musicians I knew were live and thought more could be done to promote them nationally and internationally if there were high-quality live recordings available.

I had told my father about my plans for Groove-On Records when I visited Brisbane and stayed at my parents’ house over Christmas 1994. He had surprised me by writing out a cheque for $10,000 towards the project, a strange thing to do if he suspected me of having mania (he subsequently claimed that I had developed a “serious psychotic disorder in December 1994, which ‘came to a head’ in March 1995). I deposited this money in my account, transferring only $5,000 to a new account for the Groove-On bank account, out of which I paid $3,000 to Harry Williamson for recording the concert. Groove-On Records was registered as a company, for which I used the legal services of David Hancock, a friend of Anthony Dymke, who was the bass player for both my band, the Figgs, and Curtis Late, with Kylie Auldist on vocals, which I regarded as the best band in Melbourne, with my love of a funky beat. I also paid all the band members, leaving $500 in the Groove-On account.

Later, both my father and Robert Purssey used the $10,000 cheque my father gave me to frame me as mentally ill. My father wrote that I had “gone on a spending spree with no insight into where the money was coming from” which was completely false and an attempt to frame me with mania, of which “over spending” is a classical symptom. Robert wrote, in June 1995 to John Bowles of the Prince Charles Hospital:

“The ‘Groove On’ account which commenced at $15,000 now contains $500. The fate of perhaps $5000-$8000 remains unaccounted for by the State Trustee. I believe until this is fully classified [sic] we must assume that R.S. has secreted this money in an account unknown to the State Trustee, potentially to fund a further escapade.”

These figures were false as was his conclusion, and Purssey had no right to go through my financial or practice records or any other of my possessions. As I said, the Groove On account only ever contained $5,000. I did not secrete money in hidden accounts. I don’t do such things. In this letter Purssey shows his prejudices as well as his sarcasm, in writing:

“His mother is, for historical family interpersonal and her own characterological reasons incapable of refusing R.S’s undoubtedly ‘woefully sorrowful’ and ‘sincerely made’ pleas for merely some brief respite/relief from the ‘oppressive regime and boredom’ of the inpatient setting to allow him some peace, relaxation, ‘therapy’ and to gather resources (music, books etc) to make him [sic] further stay in such a ‘terrible place’ tolerable.”

 

Indeed boredom was one of the traumas of my incarceration, and I longed for some books to read and music to listen to. Robert was very cruel to deny me this. It is true that I longed for some peace and relaxation and that the experience of being disbelieved, locked up, stigmatised as mad and ordered about was demeaning as well as oppressive. Robert has no insight into the trauma of being locked up and drugged, and had the temerity to quote my own very reasonable writings as “proof” that I was mad:

“I understand R.S remains insightless and feels he has fully demonstrated the incompetent/fraudulent nature of all psychiatry and its related legal apparatus, and appears to firmly believe, and I quote:

‘the side effects of these drugs as well as a secondary suppression by the schizophrenic himself accounts for the secondary ‘negative’ aspects of the schizophrenic illness, currently viewed as incurable’ and ‘minimising drug treatment with phenothiazines (and presumably butyrophenones) will avoid permanent damage to the basal ganglia and limbic system which are responsible for secondary schizophrenic deterioration, tardive dyskinesia, amotivational syndrome, chronic depression and emotional flatness”.

As for the “escapades” Robert accused me of going on, he explained in a 1996 letter to the psychiatrist Bill Robinson, that:

“The first escapade took him to Canberra intending to speak with Carmen Lawrence, but changing to the more intelligent Barry Jones, to put the Australian Health system to rights. The consultant who admitted Romesh, unfortunately only under pressure from the family, considered that many people would see his views as valid, repeatedly hung up the telephone on friends and family who were trying to provide background information and was reluctant to speak with Royal Park doctors”.

Returning to my first Royal Park admission and discharge summary, Jan Theobald wrote her “mental state examination” not on her own observations but from the notes of the admitting resident, who had thought me to be a 23-year-old medical student and not a 34-year-old doctor. I had been angry when I saw this young doctor and demanded to speak to someone in authority. The quotes Theobald provided were based on what this doctor wrote, and were loosely based on what I said. These were included in the “mental state examination” section of the discharge summary:

“Short man, average build, Sri Lankan origin, casually dressed in shirt and trousers, wearing no shoes. No psychomotor agitation and able to sit during interview. Quite irritable and expansive mood. Oriented x 3 [time, person, place]. Memory good. Denies disorders of perception. Speech pressured with flight of ideas. Grandiose themes, slightly paranoid and occasionally threatening. ‘The system is victimising me because of my knowledge’. ‘I am like Ghandi, you are victimising black people’. ‘You are taking your career into your own hands, by my contacts with influential artists in St Kilda this will be all over the newspapers’.”

I recall saying some of these things to the young doctor when I was angry at first being locked up, but not in these precise words. During the three weeks I was locked up, though, I didn’t continue saying them, partly because I could hardly talk because of the haloperidol.

Theobald wrote that I had “no insight” into what she and the consultants Tony Owen and Norman James provisionally diagnosed as “hypomania”. Under “treatment and progress” she wrote:

“Started 2 days after admission on haloperidol and clonazepam, but after promising to remain on the ward, absconded 4 days after admission. He travelled to Canberra where he caused a disturbance by attempting to see Barry Jones and Carmen Lawrence regarding the implementation of his medical theories. Returned to ward 11 days later after being apprehended in Canberra by Federal Police and then spending 4 days under observation at Woden Valley Hospital. Family applied for Administration Order which was granted. When returned to ward Romesh was writing a lot of grandiose and irrational papers on various aspects of medicine in which he has no expertise [I actually wrote the three essays in Canberra before I was returned to Royal Park, which didn’t provide a desk to write on]. Began to settle gradually while managed in HDU [high dependency unit]. Medical Board of Victoria informed about admission and they have offered him an option of applying for temporary deregistration. The day of his MHRB hearing (which he lost) he absconded again and we were later informed that he went to his parents’ home in Brisbane.”

Again Theobald misrepresented the facts. I did in fact leave the open ward I had been sent to from the locked Meduna Ward, where I was first locked up. I had been given haloperidol syrup which had made me Parkisonian – stiff in my movements and slow in my speech. This increased my resolve to leave, which I did after 4 days. I walked from the Royal Park grounds in Parkville to St Kilda and returned to my flat, where I met Michael Butera, a musician who was living above the flat that Adrian and I were sharing. I packed my car with Michael’s help and drove to Canberra, hoping to get an appointment with the science minister Barry Jones and the health minister Carmen Lawrence. I did not create a “disturbance”, however.

My decision to leave the hospital in which I was being unnecessarily drugged and drive to Canberra seeking support from the health minister and science minister was described as “impulsive behaviour” by the psychiatrists at Royal Park and further evidence of hypomania. It was also falsely claimed that I “caused a disturbance” by trying to see the Health Minister.

Robert Purssey had contacted the Federal Police at Parliament House saying that I was mad and may attack the health minister, Carmen Lawrence. He knew that I had plans to contact the health minister and the science minister, Barry Jones. In fact, I had written polite letters to them and included some of my theoretical work on the pineal and mind-body medicine in separate envelopes, which I took to Parliament House asking that they be delivered to them. That I contact Barry Jones had been suggested to me by the late psychologist Ronald Conway, whom I had visited after reading his book “Rage for Utopia”. Conway told me that Barry Jones might be interested in my theories about the brain and mind.

When I presented at the security screen at Parliament House with packages of my work in large envelopes addressed to Carmen Lawrence and Barry Jones I was approached by Federal Police, who treated me respectfully and with whom I wisely cooperated. They took me to Woden Valley Hospital, where an Indian psychiatrist named Dr Gupta agreed to observe me over the Easter long weekend without drugs. During these three days I wrote three essays, one on medical education and memorisation, one on the management of autism, promoting art and music therapy as better alternatives to drugs and the third on my theories about the causation of schizophrenia. Dr Gupta was shown these essays and I was discharged without seeing him again myself. My father had offered Gupta $10,000 to send me back to Melbourne in an ambulance. Gupta was angry. He said, “we don’t do that sort of thing in Australia” and hung up the phone on him.

Robert Purssey confirmed in a letter to the psychiatrist Bill Robinson (in a letter also written in late February 1996 and coordinated with my father’s) that Dr Gupta “repeatedly hung up the phone on family members who were trying to provide background information”. Purssey admits that Dr Gupta said that many people would agree with my views and hung up the phone on him. I then stayed a few days with my old friend Dammi, who was working as a radiologist in Canberra. She had heard that I was locked up and came to visit me, offering me a place to stay when I was discharged.

At this time I was visited by a Federal Police officer by the name of Barry, who inquired whether I was indeed a threat to Carmen Lawrence. When I explained him what had really happened he gave me his card and number and told me to contact him if I needed help. I later did, and informed the Federal Police that my father had conspired with others to have me locked up. They said it was a State Police matter.

 

Theobald records that I was treated with 20 mg oral haloperidol and an unspecified dose of the benzodiazepine tranquilliser Clonazepam, and that lithium was to be started the next day, but I absconded after the MHRB hearing and went to my parents’ place in Queensland. This is gross over-treatment. Lithium is an accepted treatment for mania and bipolar disorder, which I did not have. It is a very dangerous drug that causes serious side effects as well as dangerous toxicity. The well-recognised side-effects of lithium are poisoning of the thyroid gland and kidneys resulting in many patients on long-term lithium needing to take thyroid hormone replacement and dying prematurely from kidney disease. If the drug is too high in the blood it causes a specific syndrome of lithium toxicity which can be fatal.

The supposed clinical efficacy of lithium was ‘established’ by the Australian psychiatrist John Cade, who was working in a military psychiatric hospital in Melbourne. Looking for a toxin in the urine of manic patients, he was injecting the urine of his patients into guinea pigs in a disused hospital kitchen at the Bundoora Hospital. Finding that he could stop the guinea pigs dying from the injected urine by mixing it with lithium salts, he tried injecting lithium alone into the guinea pigs “to see what happened”. He found, to his delight, that the guinea pigs would not try and right themselves if turned on their backs, and it appeared to be an effective “tranquilliser”. So he tried injecting it into his “schizophrenic”, “manic” and “depressed” patients. He reported no benefit in the “schizophrenics” but a dramatic benefit in “mania”. This was in 1948 after Cade had recovered from military service in the Second World War. He went on to become the boss of the Royal Park Hospital and the President of the College of Psychiatry (RANZCP). Years later, as a celebrated and influential psychiatrist, he described his “chance discovery” of lithium carbonate as being like a prospector finding a gold nugget. The irony is that the Victorian psychiatric system was first established during the gold rush of the 1860s, when people were locked up, chained, drugged and flogged for “gold fever”. Years later what had been called gold fever, would be called “mania”. Cade himself used the terms “psychotic excitement” for mania, as well as the old terms “dementia praecox” (rather than ‘schizophrenia’, a term coined by Eugen Bleuler in Switzerland in 1908) and melancholia (now called depression),

 

When I was first admitted, I was naïve about the system. I trusted that the people in charge were not corrupt. So I asked the nurses for a second opinion, thinking it would be independent of the consultant I had been put under, Anthony Owen, and I might be treated more fairly. They arranged for this second opinion to be provided by Owen’s boss and the Director of Psychiatry at the Royal Park Hospital, Norman James, who was a past president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (1991-93) and a big believer in the merits of lithium as well as shock treatment (ECT), which the RANZCP website boasts he introduced to the poor Himalayan nation of Bhutan after his retirement. The people of Bhutan need many things, but ECT (electroconvulsive treatment) is not one of them.

James supported Owen’s diagnosis of ‘hypomania’ and my continued detention and drugging. Norman James went on to become the Chief Psychiatrist of Victoria and later of South Australia.

Norman James was the psychiatrist I was forced to see on my return to Melbourne in September 1995, after I was allowed to return from Brisbane following a 6-week incarceration at the Prince Charles Hospital in Chermside. He placed me on an CTO (Community Treatment Order, the equivalent of an Involuntary Treatment Order or ITO in Queensland) after giving me another Flupenthixol injection, which by his own admission made me “quite Parkinsonism”. At my request, transferred the CTO to a private psychiatrist I used to refer patients to in Dandenong by the name of Bill Robinson. Dr Robinson didn’t think I was mentally ill, and stopped the treatment.

On 20th November 1995 Dr Robinson wrote a report to the Medical Board of Victoria saying:

“I thought Dr. Romesh Senewiratne was an articulate, well read, intelligent man, who may well have been stressed by his separation from his wife earlier this year. I thought that whilst he seemed to be rather eccentric and well off the mainstream medical path of his parents, that he was neither psychotic nor hypomanic.’

This is in contrast to the referral letter sent by Norman James to Robinson dated 4 September 1995 which claimed that I had suffered from “excited paranoia” rather than hypomania, the diagnosis made by John Bowles at Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital. James wrote that:

“It would appear that his illness was one of excited paranoia rather than hypomania, which commenced about the time of the breakup of his marriage. He seems to have benefited from antipsychotics and I believe that he is in need of such treatment to continue for approximately a further year as is usually recommended for a first episode psychosis. He was given 40 mg of flupenthixol in Brisbane to be repeated monthly. This I did on 22.8.95 and it has caused him to become quite Parkinsonian, hence I have prescribed Cogentin, 2 mg bd. He also said he was mildly akathesic, but declined either diazepam [Valium] or propranolol for this”.

I didn’t take the Cogentin, which made me feel even worse. I didn’t see the sense in taking another tablet to take away the side-effects of flupenthixol, when the flupenthixol was not clinically indicated in the first place. Fortunately, Bill Robinson didn’t think the Flupenthixol was indicated either, and came to take what my family said with a pinch of salt, after Robert Purssey sent him a rude letter accusing him of “neglect” for “depriving” me of the treatment (meaning drugs) Purssey said I needed, and another episode when he was told that I had kidnapped my mother, when she came to visit me from Brisbane and was late to return to Chelvarayan Barr-Kumarakulasinghe’s house where she was staying. She had to ring Robinson to say that in fact she was fine and hadn’t been kidnapped by me at all, by which time he had already called the CAT team (and had to call them back saying it was a false alarm). The final straw regarding my family, for Dr Robinson, was when he was informed that I had abducted my daughter Ruby from her childcare centre, when I had in fact been given permission by her mother Sue to pick her up and keep her at my house till 7.00 pm. After he was advised that this too was a false alarm, Robinson said that he would not take further calls from my family and anything they wanted to say needed to be in writing. However, when the Chief Psychiatrist, Carlyle Perera asked him to refer me to the Monash Medical Centre (MMC), he did so. But before the scheduled appointment at MMC, my father had taken further action and got his friend Chelvarayan to refer directly to the CAT team, and I was locked up again (February 1996).

How My Family Framed Me as Mad

Royal Park Hospital

 

On the night of 7th April 1995, Robert Purssey rang up the after-hours psychiatric services claiming that I was “smoking lots of dope”, had “smashed up my flat” and “manhandled” my flat mate. These were false claims, repeating hearsay from my flatmate Adrian Deakin. Deakin and I had an argument about his not paying his share of the rent and his appalling hygiene and I had asked him to leave, but I did not “manhandle” him. I also did not smash up my flat or damage it in the least. I was smoking no more ganga than I had for many years, and considerably less than Robert himself (who also abused alcohol, which he later went into rehab for, before reinventing himself as an “ACT therapist”).

Robert’s role in misinforming the psychiatrists at the Royal Park Hospital, after I was taken there by police on the request of a psychologist by the name of Mark Salter, is evident from the discharge summary from the hospital, written by the registrar Jan Theobald in May 1995, after I escaped from Royal Park the second time and caught a bus up to Queensland with the help of friends.

In Jan Theobald’s discharge summary numerous false and misleading claims are made about me. She wrote that I referred to a complex series of ideas that made no sense to relatives, naming these as “the bioblos” and the “chaotic theory of time”. This was a reference to the palaeontology theory known as the “Four-Dimensional Bioblob” that I read in a book on fossil discoveries in Australia (Riversleigh) that boasts a foreword by no less than Sir David Attenborough. It was not an original theory and I first read about it and tried to explain it to my family in 1993. Robert Purssey, who was my sister’s boyfriend, evidently did not understand the theory, despite its simplicity and elegance. The 4-D Bioblob hypothesis profoundly observes that we are physically part of our parents as a single organism in the fourth dimension (time) and they are part of their parents and so on through the tree of life. It conceives of this “bioblob” as constantly changing and growing as a single interdependent organism travelling through space and time, and illustrates the interconnectivity of living species. When I read about it this concept resonated with me, and I tried explaining it to many people, most of whom understood it. Robert did not, and failing to understand it, pathologised it as evidence of ‘mental illness’

The ‘chaotic theory of time’ refers to none other than Chaos Theory, about which I was reading and which is a well known theory in Western physics. Inspired by the famous fractal pictures, I was exploring the connections between chaotic patterns and development of the aesthetic, with particular reference to the organic shapes and forms of the natural world and perception of beauty, and how these change with time. This was original, but not insane and certainly did no harm to myself and others (which is a necessary condition for involuntary detention in Australia).

Jan Theobald also wrote that I claimed to be able to diagnose people instantly on sight, without the need for a proper history and examination. Again, this came from my family, and not from conversations I had with Theobald (who never spoke to me, though I was locked up under her consultant Tony Owens for 3 weeks and she wrote the discharge summary). This was a very damaging claim and was untrue. All competent doctors are able to make what are called “spot diagnoses”, and I have made many over the years. However, it is important to confirm the diagnosis by the history and examination as well as relevant tests. I have never departed from these principles; the allegation was very damaging and understandably raised the concerns of the medical establishment. What’s more, Theobald’s discharge summary was copied and sent to both the Queensland and Victorian Medical Boards, during efforts to stop me from practising medicine (though there were no complaints from the people who mattered – my patients).

Theobald also wrote that I “stated to relatives” that I’d had a “revelation like Buddha” in which I became aware of the “oneness of all living things” and began “haranguing friends and relatives about this incessantly”. She also wrote that I was brought up a Christian but had a “recent conversion to Buddhism”. Again Theobald got it wrong. I had converted to Buddhism and had many insights by reading and comprehending the truth of certain Buddhist writings, but that is not where I developed concepts of the “oneness of all living things”. This came from my understanding of the 4-dimensional bioblob, which, as I have said, I read in a palaeontology book. From Buddhism I became more aware of the ubiquitous nature of change, which includes personal change and raises doubts about the psychiatric concepts of fixed personality and “premorbid personality”. I didn’t discuss Buddhism with many people, but Robert was one of the people I did. I told him, to his annoyance, that Buddhism provides a better model for psychotherapy than the Western psychiatry he was studying. He evidently regarded our debates as me “haranguing him”. He has a thin skin.

Then there was the claim by Theobald that I attempted to give my practice away gratis to my locum. This is again not true. I did say that I wanted to sell the practice to concentrate on my music, research and writing. This never eventuated. I lost the practice, which was closed down by the State Trustees on the instigation of Robert and my sister Shireen, who had organized for me to lose my financial and legal rights by application to the Guardianship and Administration Board while I was locked up at Royal Park. I had never heard of the Guardianship and Administration Board and was so drugged hat I could barely stay awake and had difficulty talking. From my sketchy recollections of the event, I just begged to be allowed to go home and consented to whatever was asked of me. I didn’t know they’d use the system to deprive me of my daughter, my medical practice and recording company, my legal and financial rights and my family home. Robert knew the system, I didn’t.

Years later, in 2002, the registrars at the Alfred Hospital repeated in their discharge summaries all the false and misleading claims made in the Royal Park discharge summary including the ‘bioblos’ and ‘chaotic theory of time’ but never thought to discuss them with me. They also claimed that I tried to give “practice grants” to my locums (having misread gratis as grants) and that I claimed to be able to diagnose people on sight without the need for a proper history and examination. Mud sticks.

Theobald continues, with the “history of present illness” to write:

“He failed to pay his employees in the weeks leading up to his admission and had omitted to pay his rent, taxation and superannuation commitments. He was spending uncharacteristically large amounts of money on books. Thought his flat mate was spying on him and that people were tapping into his telephone, Referred to Inner South CMHC and CATT by family. Refused community Rx [treatment]”

In truth I had only two employees, my receptionist Pam and locum, Dr Ganesh. I did not neglect to pay them and neither did I fail to pay my rent, superannuation or tax. This was made up by Robert Purssey to support his claim that I had ‘mania’. I spent $600 on books for my cross-disciplinary research, which I could well afford. Regarding my flat-mate Adrian Deakin: he had been convinced by Robert to run a second phone line into his bedroom and listen in on my phone conversations, so as to report on my behaviour to him. Later, Robert convinced other friends to collect answer phone messages from me and copied them and sent them to psychiatrists, as well as a radio interview I gave in 1995 after I’d been discharged. In this interview I stridently criticised the psychiatric system, and Robert thought it would convince the psychiatrists that I had “chronic mania”. He continued his campaign for several years, until he and my sister separated.

IMG_0178

 

The intake referral taken by ‘Damian’ names ‘Robert Percy’ (Purssey) as the person making the referral and my “Brother”, and also the “treating GP/psychiatrist”. Rajan Thomas is named as the “case manager”. My surname is misspelt ‘Senewiratna” (as it was by Tobie Sacks). It claims that I was “not sleeping”, which was untrue and an attempt to frame me as having “mania”, of which reduced need for sleep is a classical symptom.

Being a psychiatric registrar, Robert knew the classical signs of mania and crafted his reports of my behaviour to fit this. He “framed” me as mad, in other words.

My experience at the old Royal Park Hospital traumatised me for several years. I still have nightmares about it. The worst aspects were the boredom and the effects of the haloperidol and clonazepam that I was drugged with. This was for a diagnosis of “hypomania” which is described in the DSM IV as a mental state that is not characterised by psychosis (unlike mania) and can, in some individuals, result In improvement of efficiency and achievements. Hypomania is defined as an “elevated, irritable or expansive mood” that is not the effect of drugs and lasts for more than 5 days. It is accompanied by other symptoms characteristic of both hypomania and mania (hypomania means less than mania) including increase in goal-directed activities, increased sociability and talkativeness, increased use of puns and humour, ‘flight of ideas’, grandiosity and reduced need for sleep. The DSM also states that hypomania, unlike mania, is not characterised by problems in social and occupational functioning and does not require hospitalisation. Despite its positive features, suggestive of improved mental health, hypomania is regarded as a precursor of mania, and in Australia is treated in the same way as full-blown mania with incarceration and dopamine-blocking antipsychotic drugs. This is what was done to me when I got too happy, independent and positive for the system and my family who worked for the system, with whom the system sided against me. The system remains on their side.1995 RPH discharge summary 01

My 1995 Theory of Motivation

This is the diagram I drew when I was trying to explain my theory of motivation to Rajan Thomas in March 1995, shortly before I was first “sectioned” (as Thomas called it). BG stands for basal ganglia, and my theory was that satisfaction of instincts for communication, curiosity and play resulted in release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the midbrain. This is now accepted to be the case in the ‘pleasure circuits’ and dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens.

At the time I had not heard of the nucleus accumbens, but was developing integrative theories about the neurotransmitters dopamine, noradrenaline (NA in the diagram) and serotonin and the function of the reticular activating system (RAS) which is a noradrenergic network involved in sleep and consciousness. I postulated that our motivation is a balance between not just instincts and conditioning as I had learned at medical school, but by free will, which I regarded important both psychologically and legally as well as spiritually. I suggested to Rajan Thomas that free will is influenced by our memories and experiences. I also acknowledged drives for food, shelter and sex, but was more interested in developing theories about the instincts that could be used to promote mental health, like communication, curiosity and play. I subsequently presented my theory of motivation at the physiology department of Monash University (October 1995), Theosophical Society (1996) and the Australian College of Mind-Body Medicine (1998) to a much more receptive response.

Rajan Thomas gathered only that my theory of motivation was that “movement causes improvement in mental health”. The theory evidently went over his head, and I realised this at the time when I asked him what he thought motivated people.

1995 theory of motivation explanation to Rajan Thomas

The Lead-up to my First Incarceration

I believe that humans have an instinct to seek freedom. This instinct was called “drapetomania” when expressed by Black slaves in the USA, who tried to escape. The “treatment’ was to catch them, lock them up and whip them. Whipping was a favourite treatment in the early Australian lunatic asylums too, as well as physical restraints and chemical restraints with an increasing range of toxic drugs. When insulin was discovered in 1921, the first thing they tried was to “treat schizophrenics” by sending them into a coma by injecting them with insulin in 1922. Labouring under the delusion that fevers may cure schizophrenia they tried giving people typhoid and malaria – as a treatment – along with injecting turpentine into the abdomen to cause an abscess, which needed to be drained in theatre. This was all on purpose, with a supposedly “scientific” rationale. Prior to that they tried spinning beds and chairs, convinced that mental illness was caused by too much or little blood flow to the brain, and also developed various methods of immobilization of ‘manic’ or ‘excited’ patients.

During the 1930s and 40s the Nazis subjected people labelled with schizophrenia, manic depression and personality disorder to what they called ‘euthanasia’ or mercy killing under the notorious Aktion T4 program. This was before the mass killing of Jews and Gypsies. Prior to that, several American states established eugenics laws prohibiting the marriage of ‘mentally ill’ people and allowing for the castration of mentally ill and “feeble-minded” boys. Eugenics, initially developed at Cambridge in the 1880s, was also embraced in Australia, where it formed the “scientific” basis for the genocide of Aboriginal people and “breeding out the Black” to create a “White Australia”.

 

They also used to cause convulsions on purpose, using chemical toxins, as an alternative to electrical shocks, which were given without anaesthetic at first. This resulted in fractures, but was declared to be a successful treatment by its enthusiasts, as were the notorious “ice-pick lobotomies” popularised in the 1940s by Walter Freeman and his followers. There were other atrocities committed under the notorious but still rarely mentioned MK programs of the 1950s and 60s , where the CIA enlisted numerous well-known universities in the USA, Canada and UK to assist in brain-washing and mind control programs, supposedly to counter the “Communist menace”. These included “deep-sleep therapy” and insulin comas, combined with such frequent electric shocks to the brain that the victim was rendered incontinent and unable to talk or walk. They were then “reprogrammed” through various methods including playing repeated loops of audio tapes and other such then modern technology.

The age of lobotomies ended in 1950 with the discovery of the first “liquid lobotomy”, the dopamine-blocking drug chlorpromazine in France. This was the first of the phenothiazines, marketed as Thorazine in the USA and Largactil elsewhere (including Australia). Largactil is credited with ending the era of asylums and allowing mentally ill people diagnosed with “schizophrenia” and previously confined for years to be to be discharged from hospital and treated in the “community”. However, Largactil and the other dopamine-blocking “neuroleptics” or “antipsychotics” (also called ‘major tranquillisers’) were found to have serious side-effects, including irreversible brain damage in the form of “tardive dyskinesia” (TD). TD is characterised by uncontrollable facial, tongue and limb movements; it is hard to imagine a more stigmatising condition, since the limbs writhe uncontrollably, the tongue protrudes in and out, with puffing of the cheeks and facial grimaces. A person with TD looks mad, and this is worsened by the uncontrollable urge to pace up and down and inability to sit still known as “akathesia”, which is also caused by these drugs, presumably due to the blockade of dopamine receptors in the basal ganglia of the brain. They also cause anhedonia (lack of pleasure), reduced creativity and flattened emotions. Cruelly, these side-effects are frequently blamed on the “illness” itself.

Wikipedia says:

Chlorpromazine largely replaced electroconvulsive therapyhydrotherapy,[40] psychosurgery, and insulin shock therapy.[36] By 1964, about 50 million people worldwide had taken it.[41] Chlorpromazine, in widespread use for 50 years, remains a “benchmark” drug in the treatment of schizophrenia, an effective drug although not a perfect one.[17] The relative strengths or potencies of other antipsychotics are often ranked or measured against chlorpromazine in aliquots of 100 mg, termed chlorpromazine equivalents or CPZE.[42]

According to Wikipedia, chlorpromazine is a “low potency” antipsychotic and less likely to cause tardive dyskinesia than the “high potency” antipsychotics like haloperidol (Haldol) and fluphenazine (Stelazine). I have never had fluphenzine (notorious for causing the ‘Stelazine shuffle’) forced on me, but I have been forced to take haloperidol by mouth and also been injected with long-acting “depot” preparations of the drug. The side effects I developed traumatised me for years after, and long after the actual effects had worn off. This trauma was because of the memory of the incarceration and drugging.

 

I haven’t yet developed TD, but the condition may develop many years after treatment starts and increases in likelihood the longer it is continued. It may also worsen despite stopping treatment and is itself untreatable. I dread getting this horrible iatrogenic (treatment-induced) condition. I have experienced the other common neurological problems caused by dopamine blockade, namely akathesia and Parkinsonism, with similar symptoms to Parkinson’s Disease, but caused by dopamine receptor-blocking drugs rather than degeneration of the dopamine-producing nerve cells in the basal ganglia (the known cause of Parkinson’s Disease).

 

I came to the attention of the psychiatric system because of my family, namely my father Brian Senewiratne, sister Shireen Senewiratne and her boyfriend at the time, Robert Purssey. All were doctors working in the public system and my father also got his friend, Dr Chelvarayan Barr-Kumarakulasinghe, to make another referral, in addition to those of Robert and Shireen. My father then wrote a series of letters to the psychiatrist Rajan Thomas and his registrar Noel Barrett, purporting to provide “collateral history”. I have received these letters and Thomas’s own notes when they were provided as evidence against me at the Queensland Health Practitioner’s Tribunal in 2003, but had already obtained some of them in Freedom of Information (FOI) requests I made myself from the Alfred Hospital and Monash Medical Centre and before that from the Formal Hearing of the Medical Practitioners’ Board of Victoria, held in July and August 1996. These documents have helped me piece together the roles that my various family members played in my initial incarceration and subsequent ones. I have long grappled over their motives.

In his first letter ‘framing letter’ to Rajan Thomas, which was hand-written, long and rambling, my father ended it with the revealing line:

“I hope this long dissertation doesn’t result in someone certifying me!!!!”

He evidently knew that being certified as insane is a traumatic experience, which he didn’t want for himself, but was advocating for his much saner son.

Though my sister made a referral to the Junction Clinic in St Kilda on May 18, 1995, she left it to her boyfriend Robert, who was a psychiatry registrar, to make the phone calls to get me locked up. Robert also went through all my things after I’d been locked up at RPH, looking for evidence to substantiate his claim that I had “mania”. When I escaped the first time from Royal Park it was Robert who tracked me down, a task for which he took “compassionate leave” from work! When I escaped a second time and travelled up to Brisbane, not realising my father’s role in my incarceration, Robert flew up from Melbourne, got a mutual friend, Margie Ruddy to invite me out and then stalked me in a nightclub, all the while refusing to talk with me directly. Instead he followed me around and asked the people I spoke to what I had said, warning them that I was mad and could not be believed.

In response to the initial referral by my family the Junction Clinic sent a psychiatry registrar by the name of Noel Barrett to my flat. I had moved in there in January 1995 after separating from my wife Susan the day she arrived from Brisbane after spending two weeks there with our two-year-old daughter Ruby. Sue was furious after being told by Shireen and Robert that I was having an affair with Sara Di Genova, whom they had invited to mind their house in North Fitzroy while they too holidayed in Brisbane (where our parents live). This was untrue. I was infatuated with Sara, something Shireen knew, but we were not having a romantic relationship, though later we did, and ended up living together and having a daughter, Zoe, many years later. Zoe was born on 30th August 2009 at the Mater Hospital in Brisbane, by which time Shireen and Robert had two children but had separated, and Robert had remarried. He has since had two more children and is working as a psychiatrist in Brisbane. He refuses contact with me, and has done since he stopped trying to get me locked up. My father has never stopped trying and is trying to get me locked up again right now.

I thought the registrar Noel Barrett was a strange man. I had no rapport with him. He asked me to come to clinic, which was nearby, the next week to see the psychiatrist Rajan Thomas, who my mother had told me was an expert in autism and known to my uncle Chelvarayan Barr Kumarakulasinghe, who was working as a de-facto psychiatrist (his qualification was a surgeon and he had been professor of surgery in Kandy before coming out to Australia after spending some years in the Middle-East) and is married to my mother’s cousin Nirma, who was my piano teacher when I was a child. Rajan Thomas was a strange man too and not an expert in autism at all. This had merely been a ruse to get me to see him. He saw his task not to discuss my evolving theories with me but to see if I could be “sectioned”, meaning certified as mentally ill and involuntarily confined. He wrote in his notes that “the family wants him sectioned” but that he did not think it could be done legally, and sought a second opinion from the director of the clinic, Tobie Sacks, who I was delighted to hear was a nephew of the famous British neurologist and author Oliver Sacks.

I liked Tobie and was able to develop more rapport with him than I could with Rajan Thomas or the registrar Noel Barrett. After interviewing me for an hour he wrote:

“Review”
Thank you for asking me to review Dr Senewiratna. A 30+ yr old separated medical practitioner, he presents with mildly elevated mood, slight grandiosity with pseudophilosophical overvalued ideas regarding mental illness, behaviour and motivation.”…

.
“While it seems very probable, from the recent history, that Dr Senewiratna has been hypomanic, exhibiting elevated mood, grandiosity, flight of ideas and increasingly dysfunctional, uncharacteristic behaviours, and while he is now still mildly elevated in his mood and has several unrealistic, possibly overvalued ideas (his hypothesis) I do not find him to be certifiable/detainable under MHA [Mental Health Act].
There is currently no evidence of flight of ideas, pressure of speech, risk-taking behaviour or impulsivity in his activities. Throughout the interview he remained calm, cooperative and were able to establish good rapport. Affect was reactive and generally appropriate. The overvalued ideas/hypothesis about behaviours/mood etc are fairly firmly held, but not to delusional intensity”.

My hypothesis was that humans have a number of neglected instincts, including communication, curiosity and play, and that these instincts could be used to develop therapeutic strategies individually and as public health programs. I also developed theories about the development of aesthetic appreciation in what we see and hear, that again had practical applications, but the psychiatrists were not interested in my theories other than to determine whether how strongly I held them (and not whether they were justified and rational).


Rajan Thomas has recently been charged with sexually assaulting one of his long-term patients in his rooms and in a Melbourne psychiatric hospital. This came as no surprise to me after his explanation of what motivates people – meaning himself – in March 1995. I asked him, in good faith, what motivated people, something I was developing theories about. His answer is in keeping with the recent charges against him for sexual assault. He said “well, if you see a woman walking down the street (and he put his hands on his chest, simulating breasts) you want to jump on her but you don’t because of the people who are there”.  It was a bizarre answer that I was not expecting – my theory was that we are motivated by instincts for communication, curiosity and play!

My Psychiatric Experiences

©2018 Dr Romesh Senewiratne-Alagaratnam

According to the statistics, at the age of 57 I am getting to the end of my expected life. This is because psychiatric patients in Australia have twenty years less life to expect than the rest of the population that haven’t been branded with the label of “mental illness”.

Before I became a reluctant patient of the Australian psychiatric system, I had graduated and worked as a doctor, specialising in what was called ‘family medicine’, but better known as ‘general practice’. General practice, conducted by General Practitioners (GPs) is contrasted with medical and surgical care provided by specialists, recognised experts in various ‘medical specialties’. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) established its Family Medicine Program (FMP) to establish general practice as a specialty of its own, devoted to family medicine, an important part of which is preventive medicine. It also includes counselling and a great deal of psychiatry, provided as primary care for people of all ages. I entered the Family Medicine Program as a second year resident, and in 1990 I was granted vocational registration by the RACGP. I was not a member of the college, but received vocational registration when it was introduced because I had already been in general practice for more than 5 years.

I entered the University of Queensland to study medicine in 1978, when I was 17 and straight out of high school. I had attended “Churchie”, a boy’s school that has changed its formal name from “The Church of England Grammar School” to the “Anglican Boy’s Grammar School” and slipped down the comparative academic ranking of Brisbane schools. When I entered the university it was with 17 other boys from Churchie, including the two boys who had shared the Tyrwitt Cup with me for the best academic students in Year 12 (1977). I never actually saw the cup I had won and it was taken home by one of the other victors. I wasn’t much interested in it, to tell the truth, but I was proud of my academic success. It reinforced the belief that my mother had instilled in my sister and I that we came from an “intelligent family”. But intelligence and academic success are not the same; many intelligent people do poorly in the academic system, and many people do well academically by repeating, without questioning it, everything they are told by their teachers. Exams favour people with good memories, and “retentive brains”. It favours students who can apply equations and laws but not necessarily understand how the equations and laws they apply were derived.

From a young age I was expected to “study hard” to “come first in every subject” with the notable exception of Singhala, which I was only expected to pass. This pressure to “come first” came from my father and was transmitted to me by my mother. My father rarely spoke to me, even when I was living in his home. I did, however, have long and varied conversations with my mother and my older sister Shireen, in whom I foolishly confided my innermost thoughts and fears. Foolishly, because she used to knowledge to manipulate, dominate and control me, which she delighted in.

Shireen was also expected to come first in class and the pressure on her continued to her years at university, while my father gave up on my doing well, though he insisted that I sit at my desk and “study”, rather than play the guitar. He was outraged when I first started busking to get around the fact that he tried to control me financially. At the time one of his registrars had seen me and asked if he didn’t give me any money. My father came home furious and demanded that I stop busking. But he didn’t expect me to “win a First Class in Medicine”, which he demanded of my sister. Years later she confessed to me, in tears, that she felt huge pressure to avoid his disapproval.

Though she did well in medicine, and got a First Class, my father and sister had a tumultuous relationship when she was at Uni, mainly because he accused her of “fooling around” with her boyfriend Channa. Channa was the son of Basil and Erangani Seneviratne, who were family friends of my parents and had lived in the same block of flats in England before returning to work as doctors in the hill city of Kandy (Mahanuwara) in Sri Lanka’s central mountainous region. Basil was a cardiologist and Erangani, who had gone to school with my mother, Kamalini, was a pathologist. They moved to Brisbane from Christchurch (New Zealand) in 1978 after sending their oldest children ahead of them, first Arjuna (MIkka) who stayed with us in 1977 till his older brother Channa arrived. Both Mikka and Channa were romantically interested in Shireen, and Mikka was disappointed but not surprised by her decision to go out with Channa, whom she eventually married, but later divorced without children.

Basil and Erangani’s third child and older daughter was Dammi (Damayantha) who I had an adolescent crush on, though I found her hard to communicate with. I took her to the school formal, when Shireen was taken by Mikka, in year 12. I hired a flared white suit for the occasion with no insight into how incongruous I looked, and didn’t have a clue how to start a conversation or sustain one. When, the next year, Dammi invited me to the Somerville House formal as her date, again I didn’t know what to say to her. I was a shy guy.

When I was first locked up, supposedly for an elevated mood and increased talkativeness, Dammi was the only member of her family who visited me, the others having been warned that I had “changed” and was no longer nice. She even offered for me to stay in her flat with her sister Amanda when I was discharged from hospital. This was in the Woden Valley Hospital in Canberra, where I was locked up for three days over Easter, 1995, after escaping from the Royal Park Hospital in Melbourne (RPH). I had been locked up at the RPH on 7th April, 1995, in an event that disrupted and changed the course of my life. This is when I was transformed from being a respected doctor to being a stigmatised madman, a maniac, a ‘mental patient’.