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Kelly Savage’s Japan psychiatric ward death: Parents renew call to end restraint practice

The family of a young New Zealander who died in a psychiatric ward in Japan have marked the fourth anniversary of his death with a renewed call to abolish the practice they believe killed their son.

Kelly Savage died in Yamato City Hospital on May 17, 2017, a week after suffering a heart attack and more than two weeks after he was hospitalised for mental health issues.

His family believe he died after suffering a blood clot, after being strapped to a bed in the psychiatric ward for 10 days without release.

After refusal by the authorities at Yamato Psychiatric hospital to explain or investigate the circumstances of Kelly’s death, his family are undertaking a public campaign to draw attention to the practice at Japanese psychiatric hospitals of restraining patients for long periods of time.

In a letter to the Herald, Kelly’s parents Michael and Martha Savage said a study of police autopsies had found 47 deaths suspected of being caused by mechanical restraints in psychiatric hospitals from 2016 – 2018.

They said the number of people restrained in Japanese psychiatric hospitals had more than doubled over a 20-year period, peaking at 12,528 in 2017.

“Most other developed countries around the world only use mechanical restraints in extreme circumstances, and only for a few minutes to hours at a time,” they said.

“Recent research has revealed that mechanical restraints are used in Japan more than 150 times as often as in the US and 1900 times more than in New Zealand.”

Kelly Savage, 27, from Wellington, had a history of mental illness and had previously been hospitalised in New Zealand.

But he had recovered and in 2017 was enjoying life in Japan as an English teacher, where he’d lived for nearly two years.

He was admitted to the hospital in after a “severe psychotic breakdown related to his bipolar,” his parents said.

“From the time he was admitted until his fatal cardiac arrest he was strapped to a bed.”

“A likely cause of death is that Kelly suffered a blood clot in his legs as a consequence of the restraint for 10 days, and this blood clot travelled to his lungs.”

The Savages said a petition calling on the Japanese government to reduce restraints had been signed by 31 psychiatrists worldwide, and a complaint about Japan had been taken to the Ethics Committee of the World Psychiatric Association in 2019.

An online petition to the Japanese government for the reduction of mechanical restraints had also garnered 13,000 signatures.

“None of these efforts will bring back our beloved son, but hopefully they can help to prevent other families from going through similar horrific experiences.”

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