There are several things that need to be said on the most recent development with everybody’s favourite Botanical bete-noir.
First up, despite what various people have said on twitter etc – it is rather unlikely that the Police have taken Jami-Lee Ross in to a mental health facility off their own bat.
The Police *don’t* have the arbitrary ability to just abduct/detain people under the Mental Health Act.
What they *do* have is i) the ability to take you in for an assessment under s109 if you look like you’re mentally disordered in a public place (i.e. if you’re walking around naked in a supermarket with no memory of how you got there or something *then* they can act on the own initiative);
And, ii) under s41, the ability to assist a DAO (who’s supposed to be a mental health professional per s93) who’s acting under s38, in getting somebody who’s reasonably suspected of being unwell in for an assessment etc.
The second situation is more likely what’s happened here.
Particularly given the National Party statement that, and I quote : “Over the past several weeks the National Party has taken seriously the mental health concerns raised by Mr Ross and the medical professionals he has been involved with. That has included seeking advice from medical professionals and involving Police wherever necessary to ensure support is made available to Mr Ross.”
We’ll leave aside my incredible lack of shock (given the overt proximity of both Paula Bennett and Judith Collins to the tip of the spear on this one) that the National Party appears to be flagrantly violating Ross’s privacy in order to achieve a short-term political pantomime-victory.
Under s38(1), *anybody* can contact a DAO about somebody they think is experiencing mental disorder to get the ball rolling. Although like I say – that just *initiates* the process by which the DAO attempts to work out if they need to take things further, and whether they might need police assistance getting you (urgently) assessed by another professional (this tends to involve a proper psych), either where you are or at a hospital, etc.
So, am I saying that some “concerned citizen” in the National Party Caucus called up the local DAO and managed to convince them to get Ross brought into a facility for an assessment, with the ostensible goal of gagging him for the next wee-while while the party re-organizes itself in the resultant breathing room thus created?
Not necessarily – although that would certainly explain why National’s own statement pointedly (dare I say it – perhaps ‘gloatingly’) notes they’ve enlisted “medical professionals” and “involv[ed] Police wherever necessary to ensure support is made available to Mr Ross.”
It’s also possible that a concerned “friend” (or even friend, sans scare-quotes) or family member might have pulled the pin on it; or even a general member of the public.
Although it does have to be said – what counts as “mentally disordered”, even in the realms of professional psychiatry and such (and *especially* in the context of politics, which is frequently Alice in Wonderland in terms of its overall sensibility as an environment and conditioning influence upon its dramatis personae), is often a pretty subjective standard.
And while I *can* see how somebody might try to label Ross’s conduct over the past few days as clear signs of mental disorder (indeed, Paula Bennett has done exactly this – admittedly, from a non-specialist perspective, and with a rather obvious less-than-pure motivation to do so); I can also very much see how it is behavior that fits well within the confines of ‘erratic’, but understandable (and, importantly – not “irrational”) responses to finding yourself in a *pretty tight spot* politically.
There is a very serious risk inherent in attempting to ‘pathologize’ political dissent – as anybody who’s read a bit about Soviet psychiatry knows. And I suppose it could be argued that the protection in s4(a) against being designated ‘mentally disordered’ on the basis of one’s “political, religious, or cultural beliefs […] only” may perhaps not extend far enough if it does not also implicitly protect “standing in the public sphere, metaphorically dousing yourself and your boss in the gasoline of scandal, before casually lighting a match” as an effective act of political conviction.
(I must also confess, that one of my secondary thoughts upon reading National’s statement – specifically the bit about their “involving Police wherever necessary to ensure support is made available to Mr Ross” – was that I, and no doubt a number of others, should presumably be very, very glad that no other NZ MPs or political parties had previously thought to weaponize ‘police-assisted “hospitalization for (alleged) mental disorder”‘ as an effective tool to silence internal-gone-external dissent. Particularly over the last, say, four and a half years or so that I’ve been writing here for TDB)
Yet there is potentially a lot we don’t know about what’s happened with Mr Ross’s situation over the past 24 hours, and it would be perhaps unwise to speculate as to whether there might be other, less ‘overtly’ political flashpoints which may not even (directly) involve the National Party which could have instead lead to this unfortunate situation.
Not least because, if there actually *is* a genuine medical reason for his finding himself sans phone and in hospital, then he deserves appropriate privacy with which to begin to recuperate and rebuild.
It can be a scary as hell thing to find yourself under the tender ministrations of a hospital psych (a situation I have some .. empathy for – long story), regardless of whether one is or is not “mentally disordered” at the time.
I therefore wish him all the best. Not because he has done more damage to National inside three days than the entire Opposition managed throughout a full three Parliamentary terms … but because right now – he’s either unnecessarily hospitalized, and therefore the victim of a grave injustice indeed (even to type this possibility underscores the surreal feeling of events!); or because he may actually be grappling with demons far more profound than anything he might have encountered in the depths of the Beehive.