Playing with ourselves at Ward 21 – the Manawaroa Maori mental health unit

Manawaroa mental health unit in the mid-1980s, Palmerston North Hospital

14 year old Shaun is arriving for the first time at the mental health unit with his mother, step-father and his sisters and brothers. Shaun doesn’t know why he is there. He didn’t know that it was a mental health unit that he and his family were visiting. His mother will only say that they are all there for a family meeting; step father remains silent. The meeting room is situated within a recently built prefab. There are plastic chairs for the family to sit on and a large lounge chair for the psychiatrist, Mason Durie; who also happens to be a distant relative of Shaun’s Grandmother, Te Mahinganui. One by one Dr Durie asks each member of the family a number of questions and eventually each is allowed to leave the room; except Shaun. Shaun is left on his own with Dr Durie. He immediately senses a set up. Across from Shaun and Dr Durie is a mirror the size of an entire wall.

Dr Durie asks Shaun whether he plays with himself or not and, if he did; what was it that he thought of as he did it.

Dr D: “Do you play with yourself…your penis…do you masturbate?”

S: “Yes”

Dr D: “Do you think of girls or do you think of boys while you masturbate?”

S: “I think of girls”

Shaun becomes confused and anxious as he doesn’t want Dr Durie – or anyone else – to know that he is attracted to boys. After a number of exchanges Shaun becomes sure that he has duped Dr Durie but unfortunately for him he didn’t anticipate some follow up questions that would confirm for Dr Durie that Shaun might be homosexual.

At the end of the session, Shaun leaves the room passing the large mirror on his way out. As he leaves he notices the door next door to the room is wide open and people in white coats are standing up to leave. It is a small theatre containing about 12-15 people in white coats with clipboards. They could see into the room where Shaun was being interviewed next door. Shaun immediately figures out that the group were watching the interview and taking notes. He begins to cry and almost drops to the floor. His mum takes his arm, holds him up in time and goes to comfort him. Shaun pulls away angry, tearful and confused.

A week later, Shaun attends a meeting with his school guidance counselor who informs him that he has to attend twenty weekly therapy sessions with a counselor (psychologist) every Wednesday at 1 pm at Manawaroa, Palmerston North with lunch (in the car on the way) and transport included. Shaun is happy to hear that he will be taking a half day off school once a week and gets to work trying to figure out how he will be able to fool the Manawaroa mental health counselor into thinking that he’s a normal boy!

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