This week the news in New Zealand has been full of reports of a coroner’s inquest for a young woman who disappeared at Piha Beach, west of Auckland, New Zealand back in 2004. The result of the inquest was to find her death accidental. I’m no expert on these things but the more I heard the more I was uncomfortable. It’s a case I’ve followed with interest since she first disappeared. It just didn’t sit right with me.
Let me give you a quick summary. This woman, Iraena Asher, 25 went to a house at Piha Beach, about 40 minutes out of Auckland with some new friends. Iraena had bipolar disorder and was said to usually stay completely away from drugs. She made an emergency call to the Police saying she didn’t feel safe in the house she was in with these friends. The Police sent a taxi to pick her up. Yes, a taxi.
The next problem was the taxi was sent to the wrong address (about 30 minutes from Piha). In the meantime she escaped the house she was in and was helped by some locals before taking off on her own again. To cut a long story short she was last seen several hours later, behaving bizarrely including being naked on a street in Piha, apparently saluting a street light. It is presumed that she then went down to the beach (a fairly wild beach with strong currents) and drowned.
My concern is the time that was taken to decide at the inquest whether she was under the influence of drugs (she apparently used marijuana but also was concerned as to whether someone had spiked her drink) or whether this was a manic episode of her Bipolar.
Does this really matter? I’m not convinced it does. The woman needed help, asked for it and didn’t get it. Regardless of whether this was a case of the influence of drugs or the effects of her mental illness, she needed help but the Police seemingly didn’t take her need seriously sending only a taxi to pick her up.
The Police now seem to take the view that her behaviour was due to her mental illness. In which case I’m inclined to think that her death was the accidental drowning caused by Police negligence. But then they didn’t ask me. What I’m now wondering is why aren’t mental health groups speaking out against this ill-treatment of someone mentally ill? It doesn’t matter to me whether this was caused by bipolar, drugs, alcohol or… well, whatever.
Here was an obviously vulnerable, distressed woman who spent her last hours in some sort of hell. Iraena’s body was never found, and considering that coast’s wild reputation that’s not at all surprising. Her father said he saw no point in the inquest. It didn’t bring her back and it didn’t answer any of their questions. To rule the death purely accidental without following up the failures on behalf of the Police, seems like a complete waste to me too. Do we just accept that sending a taxi for a mentally ill person making an emergency call is acceptable? I don’t think so. It’s wrong.
Interestingly the coroner criticised the people who tried to help her for not calling the Police while she was at their home. That seems rather ironic to me. One call to the Police achieved a taxi sent to the wrong part of the city, so how would another call have helped? It seems rather like the quote:
“Insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results.”
― Albert Einstein
I’m wondering just who it is that is apparently insane?
I’m inclined to think this is about the stigma of the mentally ill as well as about how a person is treated when they’re in distress and in need of help (even if it is drug induced). Did they not take her call for help seriously because they knew she had Bipolar? And what would they have done differently had they not known? What would they do for any other person making an emergency call?
I don’t actually think what really happened at Piha Beach really matters now. Tracing her last steps seems rather pointless. What matters is that a good person was lost, and we will never know just what happened to her. We would do that woman more justice by asking why this was allowed to happen, and what we can do to make sure it never happens again? We need to make sure that authorities treat mentally ill clients with the same dignity and respect as those who are not mentally ill. Is that so difficult?
“…I am the girl you see in the photograph from some party someplace or some picnic in the park, the one who is in fact soon to be gone. When you look at the picture again, I want to assure you, I will no longer be there. I will be erased from history, like a traitor in the Soviet Union. Because with every day that goes by, I feel myself becoming more and more invisible…”
― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation
On a final, unrelated note:
I know I have created confusion this week by changing the name of my blog and then the domain name. So if you missed my posts from this past week, and had difficulty finding them, I apologise. Those posts are as follows:
- Iraena Asher (wikipedia.org)
- Police failed Iraena, say women (nzherald.co.nz)
- Iraena inquest ‘pointless’ (stuff.co.nz)
- Samaritans hit back at coroner over Iraena (nzherald.co.nz)
- A Man Named Jason… And Why I Cried (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Stigma (Passions Profile Challenge #6) (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- How We Treat Our Mentally Ill (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Normal (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)