The state’s assault on the mentally ill: The case of Michael Riley


Michael Riley is a gentle and well-educated man in his late 30s who has been taken against his will in and out of state mental health systems and forcibly medicated since August 2009. Since then, his rights have been constantly abused and the authorities treat him like a criminal despite proclaiming that he isn’t. Michael has no criminal record and has never harmed another person or himself in his life, yet he is being treated like he has supposedly breached the Mental Health Act. In his interview with Justice Action, Michael shares his experience at the hands of the mental health system and what should be done so that one’s rights are protected and such abuses of authority no longer occur.

With an undergraduate degree in Economics from the University of Sydney, Michael is a friendly, highly intelligent and opinionated man. He has family and friends for whom he cares very much, including a young daughter. Justice Action has a long history with Michael Riley going back several over several Tribunal Hearings.

He openly accepts that he has a mental illness, having a documented history of Schizoaffective Disorder (a combination of schizophrenia and a mood disorder) dating back over 10 years. The main concern here is the state’s treatment of those who do have a mental illness and who they deem as a danger to society or themselves. Michael has long been able to manage his own condition, and his own community had no idea that he was classified as mentally ill. It was only after a call by his family to the police out of concern for his well being that he came to the attention of the mental health system. Although they may have believed they were acting in his best interests, by doing so Michael’s independence and right to make decisions regarding his own wellbeing have been stripped away.

When the police came to take him away in August 2009, they did so in front of a coffee shop he frequents, where neighbours, friends and acquaintances were all able to witness him being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police paddy wagon. They used such excessive force that Michael, who is 6 ft 3’’, suffered from head wounds requiring treatment at Westmead Hospital that Michael described as “staples in my head”.

This criminalization of those who are mentally ill should not be tolerated. The stigma that surrounds mentally ill people has translated into abuse of authority and the mistreatment of those who should be supported and protected. Furthermore, regardless of whatever the allegations are or who makes them, the burden of proof lies on Michael to disprove accusations of mental instability. His case throws up in the contradiction of case and coercion.


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