Treat­ment at old men­tal ‘bins’ shocks film-maker

Kapi-Mana News - - NEWS - By AN­DREA O’NEIL

A dark slice of Porirua’s his­tory is ex­plored in a doc­u­men­tary screen­ing in Welling­ton this week.

Auck­land film-maker Jim Mar­brook’s Men­tal Notes is the first fea­ture-length ex­plo­ration of New Zealand’s men­tal in­sti­tu­tions, one of the largest which was Porirua Lu­natic Asy­lum.

Mr Mar­brook trav­elled the coun­try in­ter­view­ing ex­pa­tients and staff of the asy­lums known col­lo­qui­ally as ‘‘the bins’’.

The doc­u­men­tary was in­spired by an ear­lier film Mar­brook had made about Ran­gi­tikei’s Lake Alice Hospi­tal. De­spite all his re­search, Mar­brook was still shocked by some of the sto­ries he was told while mak­ing Men­tal Notes.

One Dunedin pa­tient was given a ther­apy where she was put to sleep for six weeks.

‘‘Ba­si­cally the idea was you would put some­one to sleep for a few weeks and your body would shut down and it would be like re­boot­ing a com­puter, I guess.

‘‘But prac­ti­cally that situ- ation did all sorts of dam­age,’’ Mar­brook says.

This pa­tient’s body weight had dou­bled when she woke up, and her par­ents didn’t recog­nise her when they vis­ited, he says.

‘‘The shock was that it was in some way al­low­able.’’

Some ther­a­pies that were widely ac­cepted 50 years ago were sim­ply overused, Mr Mar­brook says.

‘‘For me it’s in­ter­est­ing to see how a treat­ment which had a de­gree of suc­cess in some sec­tions was just kind of used as a kind of blan­ket treat­ment.

‘‘The dosage of drugs was so high and now you’d be get­ting maybe a 10th of that.’’

Some ther­a­pies like elec­tric shock treat­ment were sim­ply abused.

‘‘ Prob­a­bly the worst ex­am­ple of a clin­i­cal tool be­ing used in quite a sav­age and dam­ag­ing way was elec­tric shocks to the gen­i­tals.’’

Also up­set­ting were sto­ries of pa­tients who to­day would not be con­sid­ered men­tally dis­turbed – many wards of the state were in­sti­tu­tion­alised in Porirua.

‘‘ There was a sense of ‘ These are trou­ble­some peo­ple, let’s put them in the bin’,’’ Mar­brook says.

While some pa­tients said they ben­e­fited from hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion, most suf­fered from the poor treat­ment of their ill­nesses.

‘‘If the film has a the­sis it’s that these things are made tremen­dously more dif­fi­cult within an in­sti­tu­tional frame­work,’’ Mar­brook says.

Men­tal Notes is show­ing at Para­mount cinema this Fri­day at noon and Satur­day at 6pm as part of the World Cinema Show­case. Tick­ets $9.50 to $13.

In the bins: Film-maker Jim Mar­brook in­ter­viewed ex-pa­tients and staff of Porirua Lu­natic Asy­lum in his film Men­tal Notes, screen­ing in Welling­ton this week.

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