Finding Appropriate Mental Health Services For Disabled People

CW: Eating Disorders, Restraint, Domestic Violence, Rape & Suicide

Nicole Lee admitted to having “lost touch with reality” when she flung a plastic cup of tea at a wall at Melbourne’s Northern Hospital in Epping. Lee was extremely underweight. She had fasted for two weeks and had emergency surgery following a self-harm event. Her brain was starving, she said, and she attempted to leave.

In response, two security guards tied her arms and legs to a bed for six hours. For the next three weeks, the restraints were tied to Lee’s bed and were used several times when she became agitated.

Lee is the president of People With Disability Australia and spends her days pushing for disability policy reform. Knowing the system, she was taken aback by the hospital’s propensity to employ force and dismiss her concerns.

The Victorian government has committed to removing restraints in mental health facilities within the next ten years. The Australian Medical Association is opposed, citing the risk to healthcare workers. However, Lee argues that nationally standardized and mandatory de-escalation training for all healthcare workers will reduce the need for restraints, protecting both patients and staff.

According to experts, overuse of restraints is still prevalent in Victorian hospitals, where understaffing and poor training make force the default strategy. The state’s mental health watchdog recognized inappropriate use of restraints as a “significant concern” in its most recent annual report, with 52 complaints received in the year, the majority of which were from emergency wards.

Just a few years ago, Lee was at the very same hospital for a different reason. She delivered a speech on behalf of the Victorian government’s victim advisory committee to a room full of doctors, nurses, social workers, and hospital executives. Lee began by discussing her experience of living with both physical and mental disabilities, and how this increased her reliance on her violent ex-husband.

David Latham was Lee’s primary caregiver and abuser for years. He was raping and beating her on a regular basis until the authorities intervened. Latham was sentenced to prison for these acts, but Lee’s psychological scars remain.

Lee called an ambulance earlier this year when her anorexia nervosa symptoms threatened her life. However, she claims that when she arrived at the emergency room, officials failed to check her vitals and did not recognize the severity of her situation.

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder marked by self-induced starvation, fear of weight gain, amenorrhea in women, and decreased sexual drive in men. Weight loss is traditionally achieved through food restriction, however alternative weight-loss techniques (e.g., laxative/diuretic misuse and self-induced vomiting) may also occur. Anorexia differs from bulimia in that there is no bingeing, which is the fast absorption of huge amounts of food in a short period of time.

When Lee approached them for assistance, she says the medical staff dismissed her. From there, she went to the bathroom and engaged in self-injurious behavior because she wanted to end her life.

Lee had to have surgery since her suicide attempt was so horrific. According to her, the operation had been taken off the surgery list for three days, requiring her to continue fasting. Her mental health deteriorated following the surgery. She says the staff are ill-equipped to deal with patients experiencing a mental health crisis, and that restraining patients is often the first thing they do.

Lee was sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which she acknowledges was necessary at the time. However, she claims the hospital processes that led up to this point exacerbated her condition, and the experience afterwards traumatized her.

She was placed under 24-hour surveillance. Although she claims she had no mental health treatment. Private security guards were stationed in her room.

Everyone deserves access to mental health care regardless of age or disability. Disabled people deserve to live free from abuse. Quality services are essential to ensuring that disabled people are healthy and comfortable.


Akridce, Kathleen. ‘Anorexia Nervosa’. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing, vol. 18, no. 1, Elsevier, Jan. 1989, pp. 25–30, https://doi.org10.1111/j.1552-6909.1989.tb01613.x.

Grieve, Charlotte. “Nicole Called an Ambulance for Help. She Ended up Shackled to a Bed.” The Age, 29 July 2023,

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