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 February 2000. 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. His size at 6'3" and his unusual beliefs have made him a easy target.
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 a number of years over several Tribunal Hearings.
He accepts that the state defines him as a mentally ill person, however Michael rejects this classification and the diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder which dates back over 13 years. He accepts that his behaviour may sometimes be hard for his family to live with, but asserts that it is his right to have his own thoughts and his entitlement to be different than others.
The main concern here is the state’s treatment of those whom they define as mentally ill and whom they deem as a danger to themselves or others. 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.
On two separate occasions, quite recently, police arrested Michael for being a "danger to his reputation". They came to the villa where he is living, handcuffed him and in dragging him out in front of neighbours, using such force that Michael suffered head wounds requiring four staples to close the wound when he was treated at Westmead Hospital. On the second occasion in 2012 they did so in front of a coffee shop he frequents, where neighbours, friends and acquaintances were all witnessed him being handcuffed and thrown into the back of a police paddy wagon. Until this embarrassment none of those around him were aware of any mental health issues.
This criminalisation of those who are mentally ill should not be tolerated. The stigma that surrounds mentally ill people has justified 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 care and coercion.