Mother slams 'shocking' mental health services

In 2004, Anita Cumming (left) appeared in the film Belief, shot in Dunedin. Photo: ODT files
In 2004, Anita Cumming (left) appeared in the film Belief, shot in Dunedin. Photo: ODT files

The mother of a Dunedin woman with obsessive-compulsive disorder jailed for abusing her says her daughter is no criminal.

''This thing inside her has taken over,'' Patricia Cumming said.

She took aim at mental health services, which she described as ''shocking''.

Daughter Anita Dorothy Cumming (39) had managed the disorder for many years but recently she had struggled, her mother said.

She formerly ran her own drama school, put on countless plays and even had a couple of bit-part roles in Shortland Street.

However, on Tuesday, she was sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment when she appeared in the Dunedin District Court on three charges of breaching a protection order.

Over a three-day span in February, Anita Cumming woke her 71-year-old mother repeatedly throughout the nights, forcing her to clean to her meticulous standards.

Patricia Cumming got a total of six hours sleep during the period.

There was further unpermitted contact with the victim in April.

It all came while Anita Cumming was serving a sentence of intensive supervision for an episode in August last year when she became furious about blueberries her mother had bought and then hit her with a bottle.

It was a ''fear of contamination'' that had caused her to lash out, Patricia Cumming said.

''She's not a criminal ... She's got a severe problem.''

Despite the recent turbulent years, Patricia Cumming stood by her daughter and said she would continue to offer her unwavering love and support.

She said her daughter's decline could be attributed to her treatment through the mental-health system.

''She's in the too-hard basket,'' she said.

While on bail at Wakari Hospital, Anita Cumming was in a ward where the unsanitary conditions drove her to leave.

''There was faeces on the floor and blood on the wall,'' she said.

Her daughter would sneak from the grounds and get a taxi home, where she would shower and temporarily alleviate her anxiety.

Patricia Cumming admitted to being ''an accomplice'' in these secret missions.

She said she begged hospital bosses to move her daughter to another ward but they declined.

Eventually, the defendant had been caught leaving the facility and then sent to Christchurch Women's Prison.

A Southern District Health Board spokeswoman said it was unable to comment on specific patients' situations.

It is likely Anita Cumming will be released from prison in about October but then the issue of her treatment and living arrangements would resurface.

As a sickness beneficiary with convictions to her name, it would be near impossible to find a rental; and she was barred from living at the family home, Patricia Cumming said.

Counsel Marie Taylor-Cyphers said it was critical Anita Cumming was supported on her release.

''I think we're in for a life of recidivism if we don't get it right now,'' she said.

She said the efforts made to find an alternative to imprisonment were ''extraordinary'' but ultimately the court was left with no other option.

All Patricia Cumming could do, she told the Otago Daily Times, was support her.

''She's a fantastic daughter. She's such a soft, caring person,'' she said.

Psychotherapist Kyle MacDonald said OCD had two parts: the obsession on things on which people became fixated to manage distress and the loop of repetition, which was the compulsion.

''It's unhelpful because it comes to dominate and it's unhelpful because it is quite rigid,'' he said.



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