“I Didn’t Feel Valid as a Human Being”

A Gendered Analysis of Women’s Experiences and Resistances to Involuntary Mental Health Treatment


  • Chantel Bakac University of Sydney


Mental health, gender-based violence, feminist theories and research, involuntary mental health treatment


Involuntary mental health treatment is when a person undergoes an unwanted intervention in a hospital or in the community due to an authorised medical officer deeming the person to be ‘mentally ill’ or ‘mentally disordered’ (NSW Government, 2021). The Mental Health Act NSW (2007) frames involuntary mental health treatment as a ‘necessary’ and ‘effective’ approach to supporting people experiencing mental distress. This study critically engages with women’s experiences of involuntary mental health treatment, exploring the potential implications of a biomedical and carceral response to women’s distress. Six women with experience of involuntary mental health treatment in NSW were involved in my Honours project. In alignment with both feminist and critical mental health frameworks, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were chosen as they provide a loose structure and allow for flexibility to discover new areas of significance identified by women (Dcruz & Jones, 2013). The project was approved by the University of Sydney Human Ethics Committee.


All women involved in this study described involuntary mental health treatment as a profoundly harmful experience which produced ongoing implications. Women described the ways in which psychiatric and gender oppressions intersected to perpetuate the silencing of women. Collectively and individually, all women displayed acts of resistance towards psychiatric and patriarchal hegemony. Three major themes were identified in the analytical process: The Censorship of Knowledge; The Censorship of Emotions; and The Censorship of Acts of Resistance.


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