Sterile hospital settings, straight jackets, padded rooms, and patients who are completely out of touch with reality fill our minds when we think of a mental hospital. Maybe you think of Nellie Bly, who went undercover as a mentally ill person to get into an insane asylum and experienced inhumane treatment. A while back, we had an article here on hospitals for the criminally insane. But at age fourteen, I found out what it’s actually like inside a mental hospital.
I had been depressed for a few years when I nearly brought myself to suicide. Holding a bottle of ibuprofen, I contemplated downing the pills. Instead, I threw the bottle behind a bookshelf and decided to go into the counselor’s office on the next school day. Later, a nurse would laugh that you can’t kill yourself with ibuprofen.
One trip to the counselor’s office later, I was in my mom’s car, being driven to the emergency room. When I arrived there, a representative from a local mental health hospital came to ask me questions, including everything from whether I had been suicidal (yes) to whether I was involved in the occult (what). They recommended inpatient treatment, and I agreed. Really, I was terrified. I had the same misconceptions about mental health hospitals as everyone else, thinking of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and imagining myself strapped to a bed. I had no idea what I was in for.
When I was admitted into the hospital, which I cannot name for fear of being sued (a trend with them), I would be given a packet of patient’s rights. I scoured them with a critical eye, making sure I knew what I was allowed. I remember, unfortunately with little detail, that not every right was honored — including the right to contact people whenever I felt it necessary. I asked the nurses about this. They explained that the rights only applied to adult patients. I pointed out where it said in the packet that the rights applied to everyone. I was threatened with solitary confinement, and backed off.
From that first day on, I felt like a prisoner instead of a patient. They treated us like delinquents — like we were only there because we were bad kids with the gall to be mentally ill. For a place that was meant to fix those who felt hopeless and alone, it sure made me feel hopeless and alone.
It was a cold environment — literally and figuratively. There was a rule against hugging; for reasons that were never really explained, we weren’t allowed to touch the other patients. We also weren’t allowed to communicate with anyone outside the hospital save for a short list of people. Ostensibly it was because it could interfere with treatment, but how hugging a depressed person might make them more depressed still boggles my mind, and I still don’t understand why I couldn’t have my cell phone- my one connection to my online lifelines.
The nurses, too, were cold. I distinctly remember a six-year-old schizophrenic girl crying out for her mother in the middle of the night. I distinctly remembering them yelling at her to be quiet.
When it came to actual treatment, we were treated through group therapy. Group therapy can sometimes help, but here it did nothing to counter the feelings of being imprisoned and scared that permeated the atmosphere. Group therapy simply became a place where we voiced our grievances at the way we were treated. This resulted in nothing more than the head of the ward handing us little pieces of paper, telling us that we could write one suggestion on it, and that they might be considered.
At one point in group therapy, they told us to go punch our mattresses. Then we were yelled at for punching our mattresses. One day we went outside when we were especially frustrated, and one girl screamed to let off steam. Earlier, they had told us we could do that, but now they threatened to bring us inside if it continued anyways. It was a confusing place.
I would leave after just five days; that was as short as I could convince them to make my stay. I asked the other patients for their Facebook info — we weren’t supposed to do that, because for whatever reason, keeping in touch with those who had helped you stay sane was forbidden — and I left with my parents.
I would have nightmares about my five days there. I no longer do, but the feeling of dread surrounding the thought of ever going back has persevered. In fact, I would be given the chance to return three years later, when I landed myself back in the ER after a manic episode led to self harm and a gash in my leg.
A different representative from the same hospital would come in and evaluate me, and insist that I come back to be treated. I told him that I had left the hospital worse than I had come in — which was true. He told me that if I didn’t go back, he’d be seeing me in the emergency room again eventually. He was wrong, and after leaving the ER, I found a psychiatrist who would treat me like a human. I got on good medication, and I’ve been considerably better ever since- no thanks to mental health hospitals.
It’s true that some hospitals are good, where people come out much better, but that experience needs to be universal. Patients need to feel confident they will be treated with dignity and like human beings — not threatened with solitary for requesting that their rights be honored. Before we can insist that mentally ill people admit themselves to hospitals, we must make sure that the are places of healing, not hurting.
(featured image via Darkday)