"How Many More Must Die," NAMI Asks Congress

Psychiatric Nurse Describes Horror of Restraints, Citing Five Deaths in Five Months

Apr 13 1999

Washington, D.C. - In testimony before a Senate appropriations subcommittee today, Wanda Mohr, Ph.D., R.N., F.A.A.N, assistant professor of the nursing of children at the University of Pennsylvania, described the use of restraints in psychiatric hospitals as "situations that go out of control," that easily turn into "tragedies."

A member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), Mohr also cited NAMI's compilation of recent reports of abuses by restraints and seclusion---including five deaths over a five-month period.

"Four were youths under the age of 18. One was a nine-year-old boy. And those are only the ones we know about," Mohr told the subcommittee chaired by Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA). "Five deaths in five months. As you consider the issue, please think about how many more will die, unless Congress acts."

"Imagine for a moment what it must be like to be 12 years old, frightened by voices in your head, not able to understand what is happening and having six to eight big people surround you. When you try to run away or defend yourself…they lunge at you or pin you to the floor. In the worst-case scenario, you can't breathe and you tell them. But they pay you no attention---after all, you're crazy," Mohr declared. "And then things begin to go black…you die, calling for your mommy and for help that never comes."

"In the best-case scenario, they carry your little body to a bare room, strap you to a bed, spread-eagle, pull down your pants, inject you with drugs, and leave you alone with the horror for hours at a time. This scene is replayed over and over again in psychiatric hospitals across the country."

NAMI, the nation's largest grassroots advocacy organization for people with severe mental illnesses and their families, is leading efforts nationally to end the inappropriate and abusive use of physical restraints and seclusion in psychiatric facilities.


Rick Griffin, 36
Stockton, California
November 11, 1998
Laura Hanson, 17
West Palm Beach, Florida
November 19, 1998
Mark Draheim, 14
Orefield, Pennsylvania
December 10, 1998
Kristal Mayon-Ceniceros, 16
Chula Vista, California
February 5, 1999
Timithy Thomas, 9
Banner Elk, North Carolina
March 11, 1999

In October 1998, The Hartford Courant published an investigative series on the abuse of restraints and seclusion in psychiatric facilities nationwide and documented 142 deaths over a decade. The Harvard Center for Risk Analysis has estimated that between 50 and 150 such deaths occur annually. Since the Courant series, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill has steadily compiled new reports of abuses, including five more deaths. Four of the five victims were under the age of 18. And those are only the deaths we know about. How many more will die until Congress acts? NAMI applauds Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and Representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Pete Stark (D-CA) for having introduced legislation to prevent more abuse and tragedies. We thank Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) for his leadership also in holding a Senate hearing on the issue.