“Somebody kill me!” “Make the voices stop!” “Suck it up and stop feeling sorry for yourself!”
These are all phrases I have heard echoing through the hallways of behavioral health units, aka psychiatric wards, mental hospitals, looney bins. They provoke fear, hopelessness, anger and tremendous pain even just thinking about them. Several times I have had to admit myself to a hospital when I feared I was no longer safe from myself or was experiencing dangerous effects from medication. I have gone with the intention of undertaking intensive medication changes, therapy and round the clock care. I have been lucky to have had fairly adequate stays at one particular hospital, however, I have also been the main character in an unbelievable nightmare at others. My intent here is to share some of my experiences in the hopes people will begin to understand just how inadequate mental health care is, especially for crisis situations.
When a person is admitted to a psych unit, there is no separation or specialization according to type or severity of illness. I was admitted due to depression, yet I’d receive basically the same care – or lack of – as a severely psychotic patient. I’ve been treated as worthless and looked down upon by staff simply by being there. Before I’d even speak to anyone, judgement had already been made. Upon admittance I’ve had to undergo searches, remove all strings from my clothing along with my shoelaces then had my shoes duct taped to my feet. I was escorted by security to the “unit” which was located in the basement of the building and taken to my room that was dimly lit and furnished with two beds, two drawers and a tiny window. My roommate did not know her own name or have a grasp on reality. She would steal food and hide it under her bed and when she would get caught she would be screamed at and humiliated. I would try to talk to her but she’d simply smile and continue on in her own world while I sat there with my heart breaking for her and the way she was being treated.
Several times a day the unit would be on “Code Red” when all of us would be rushed to the common room while several orderlies would come running to take down any given patient who posed a threat. Otherwise I was basically left on my own for the first day or so until I could prove that I could be trusted and my status would be upgraded…In other words, until I was not a threat. Never once did I ever display aggressive behavior and that was even in my records, but nonetheless, I had to convince them I was reasonable. To me that was humiliating. Once I had proved myself I was allowed to participate in some activities for patients with a grasp on reality, some of whom were depressed as well. We’d discuss amongst ourselves how scary the place was and how we lacked proper care and were shocked by the environment. When I was first admitted it took almost 15 hours for me to actually see a doctor, so initially I was denied the medication that I was already on, which at the time was a heavy duty cocktail, therefore missing a dose was dangerous. My pleas were ignored and ultimately I felt like an addict begging for my drugs even though I was very well educated about my illness and the medicine I was on, yet I was treated as though I was stupid. Ultimately no one would listen to me and I dealt with the repercussions on my own. When I finally met with a psychiatrist, he hardly spoke any English so I could not understand most of what he said and when I’d ask for clarification it was clear that I was annoying him. It was so frustrating I eventually just stopped talking and took whatever he prescribed, no longer caring if it killed me.
Nurses and mental health workers were supposed to make rounds every 15 minutes to ensure everyone’s safety, yet at night when I lay in bed scared out of my mind the only person walking the halls was a patient pacing back and forth outside my room while yelling and laughing at the voices in his head, insisting that he was friends with Hitler who’d be coming for us all. We were allowed to use one of three phones in the common area but there was no privacy whatsoever. Each phone was separated by ¾ of a wall. I’ll never forget as long as I live one particular time when I was using the phone. The man next to me, who had been hospitalized against his will and was also facing drug charges, starting arguing with someone, began dropping F-bombs and without warning threw a stool, smashing it into the wall just above my head. I was stuck in the corner waiting for another projectile to come at me but to my relief he was taken down, cuffed and taken to a “private” room. I kept wondering why I was trapped in the same place as this man when our illnesses and behaviors were so radically different.
By my third day I had yet to talk to a counselor and my cocktail of meds had increased to 5 different prescriptions. Soon another was added whose purpose was to counteract the side effects I was experiencing from of all the others. At night I was also given something to help me sleep which would knock me unconscious for 10-12 hour stretches. The first time I was given that particular med I questioned the reason for it and expressed concern about adding it to my already potent cocktail, but I was told if I didn’t take it then I was essentially arguing with doctor’s orders and it would be noted that I was uncooperative. Dumbfounded and defeated I felt myself falling asleep as I walked away and only by holding onto the walls did I make it to my room where I literally passed out on the bed. A few hours later I was woken up suddenly by a body slamming down on top of me. It was dark and I was confused but my instincts kicked into high gear. I yelled and managed to push the person off me. He tried to come at me again but I managed to get past him and ran to the nurses’ station, insisting that someone had come into my room and jumped on me. They actually rolled their eyes and reluctantly followed me. The man who had several minutes earlier been released from solitary lockdown for trying to hit a mental health worker had somehow made it into my room without anyone noticing. He was dragged out and I was told I could go back to bed even though I insisted I wanted to stay out of my room, but I was not allowed. I sat up in bed praying I’d stay awake but my body couldn’t fight the meds that saturated my system. I awoke 8 hours later thanking God that He had been watching over me protecting me from harm. There’s no other way I would have woken up given the amount of medication in my system.
The common area where we were allowed to watch tv was decorated with holes in the gray walls, stains from God only knows what on the floor and ceiling, and old, ripped up furniture. The environment was downright dark and depressing. I obsessively wondered if this was going to be the place where I died. Did I really deserve to be in a place like this being treated like less than a human being? All I had wanted was to get treatment for an illness I didn’t ask for and couldn’t control, but I ended up feeling more hopeless than ever. A person suffering from depression is radically different from someone experiencing psychosis. Proper treatment is completely different yet that is not taken into consideration. I am not claiming all hospitals or staff are guilty, however too many are and that’s simply unacceptable. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has envisioned a so called “mental hospital” or “psych ward” as a scene taken straight out of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, but that’s what kept coming to my mind while wasting away in that hospital.
Being admitted to a hospital should not equate with being “crazy” or cause shock or judgment. I should not feel embarrassed or worried about telling people about being there. One should not be made to feel like a prisoner or ridiculed or not taken seriously when they are sick. People who suffer life threatening illnesses that originate in the brain, but just so happen to manifest in mood or behavior, should be treated with respect, compassion and receive quality health care; even patients who claim to be best friends with Hitler. I left that hospital angry and humiliated. Fortunately I was educated about my illness and medication and had a strong support system that ultimately helped me to survive. When a person is mentally ill and in a life threatening situation most people don’t know where to turn. When hospitals are not equipped to handle different illnesses and provide appropriate treatment carried out by caring staff, how will we ever make progress? I pray I never need the services of a hospital again, but there are no guarantees. Bipolar disorder is a lifelong illness that can show up whenever it feels like it and is often life threatening. It angers me and scares me that if I needed a hospital something like this may be my only option. I would need to be tranquilized, tied up and dragged there against my will in order for me to ever accept being treated in a such a setting again. Behavioral health units are not plentiful and quality care is difficult to find. I truly hope society becomes more aware of this disgrace and therefore willing to help those who suffer from illnesses such as mine. Mental illness is real. It’s scary. But it’s treatable. However, we have to be willing to invest in it and make it a priority. These illnesses should not be written off. Those suffering should not be shrugged off as crazy and left to fend for themselves. Maybe I was stuck in that hospital for a reason. Maybe God allowed me to be there while protecting me so I could write about my experience and bring about awareness. If so then I will embrace that and vow to never let my nightmare go to waste.
Wow, unbelievable!!!!!! I could not agree with you more!!!! I feel awful that you had to experience that kind of treatment!!!! It sounds truly inhumane!!!! Psych wards have gone down hill as of recent. That is not how it was back when I did my clinical rotation in Nursing School, or at least the patients and myself were BLESSED to be in an exceptional hospital. I am both embarrassed and horrified after reading your experience. I am glad that you are brave enough and strong enough to share your experiences with all of us, in hopes that MAYBE something can be done to change this. That is simply unacceptable for ANY human being to be treated in that manner!!!!! You are truly amazing to be able to share your horrific/painful experience with all to give an “inside” view of how we treat patients who suffer with mental illness and for the most part, have to suffer in silence. It frustrates me that people do not realize that “mental illness” is every bit a legitimate disease process as diabetes, hart failure, cancer, MS………….. God Bless you for your bravery!!!!!!! You MUST/SHOULD feel so good to be able to voice your experience so eloquently and give others a voice who suffer with you. I suffer from severe anxiety, which effects EVERY aspect of ones life and can feel, at times, life threatening. Thank you for sharing!!!!!
Denise E. Rydell
Thank you for sharing your brave story. You are very strong and an inspiration.
I really need big help.
My only sibling, 46 yr old brother, an architect by profession, was diagnosed with bipolar in 2009.
He has a very stressful life trying to raise a 17 yr old autistic child. He and his current of wife of 23 are filing divorce. He has had multiple relationships with various women since 2003. He even went to another country and got married in 2009& returned all confused and lost. My poor father had a heart ache with all this chaos and paid for the divorce few years later.
My brother’s main problems are extreme obsession with money and relationship. He wants to marry someone. He always feels lonely.
He is also very selfish and greedy and expects and has wasted so much money in doing random businesses which my father had to pay and recover.
He is very hurt now. He constantly wants to leave the current marriage. He has a huge credit card debt and divorce lawyer will also be expensive. Meanwhile he has met someone online and wants to get married immediately after the divorce.
He is becoming very irrational. As May approaches, he will get manic, start having money ideas and start spending money even though he does not have much. All summer he will be extremely agitated and very aggressive. By September, October, he is low and starts getting depressed.
Only good thing he trusts his psychiatrist and only sees him when he is not well. However, he does not want to see any therapists and thinks it is a waste of money.
He blames all his problems and misery on everybody except himself. He does not enjoy doing anything with the family.
He wants me & my parents to pay for the credit card debt and divorce lawyer fee.
How do I consult him and make any sense out of this?
If anyone can give me some words of wisdom, I would highly appreciate it.
I’m very sorry you and your brother and family are going through this. This illness affects entire families and is difficult for everyone involved. Has your entire family ever sat down with your brother to confront him in a loving way? It’s important to love and accept each other, but it is also not fair or helpful to your family or brother if you have to constantly pick up the pieces. The truth can hurt, but if he knows you all love him and want him to be ok maybe he will consider getting more help. Seeing a doctor on a regular basis is so important and when one is feeling good, that is hard to accept. Will he allow any of you to go to a doctor’s appointment with him? My husband has come with me a few times and was able to tell the doctor what he observed which was very helpful. His perspective was valuable to my psychiatrist because often I wouldn’t be fully honest or I would downplay my feelings or actions. Sometimes it’s easier to accept advice or help from someone outside the family.
Personally I think the most important thing you can do right now is figure out a way to all sit down with your brother and lovingly tell him you want him to get help because you cannot continue to clean up his messes, but most importantly because you love him and want to see him well. Then try to get him to his doctor and go with him. I would also research hospitals around you. Not all are as I described above. I have been to another that was completely opposite of this and it was very helpful. It’s good to know in case he is ever a danger to himself, you will know your options before it’s too late.
I hope this helps. You are in my prayers. Thank you for reaching out and KEEP reaching out and don’t give up!
Thank you for the advice.
I have scheduled a therapist meeting but i will be considered the patient and not him.
Or should i go with him to his psych appt?
I have told him many times we care for you especially my father who always speaks to him in kind words and softness.
However my brother always gets upset at us and all the conversation ends up blaming my parents and that they should sell their properties and give my brother so he can do business and live a better life. He thinks he is suffering and need help like charity . This has struck his mind ever since undergrad. Especially after he had the autistic child, he thinks we should constantly help him.
His current wife of 23 years is fed up & frustrated with an autistic child whom we dont know what to do in the long term if the divorce goes through. She is especially upset and has no more care for my brother because of his behaviours and cheating and constant texting with women and wasting money.
We are in Memphis. Hospital has never being considered because he has never being thought of as a threat to himself or us.
Should we stick to his psychiatrist? I really dont feel comfortable with him. The psych has told me many times that my brother needs to go to therapists.
I like my therapist so far, he is a senior male and would be suitable for my brother. However because money issue, he does not want to go even if I pay for his copay.
What kinds of words would make sense to my brother and help him understand what is visioning in his mind is not going to work right now.
How do I deal with his obsessiveness about loneliness and money?
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First, I’m glad to hear you have an appointment for yourself because you are dealing with a lot. Has your therapist given you any advice about what to do? Even if your brother went with you and you were considered the patient,it still would be helpful for him to hear how it affects you and having a professional to guide the conversation could be valuable. I would encourage you to go to his psychiatrist with him as well, even if it seems uncomfortable. Have you ever given him an ultimatum? Either go to a therapist and allow me to pay, or we will no longer pay for anything else. Is there anyone who could do an intervention? Maybe ask your therapist about that?
I will continue to think about this and will be in touch.
Sorry to bother you again.
Yes actually my therapist wants to meet my brother but he eventually wants my brother to make an appointment of his own.
Therapist wants to meet my brother so he can get an idea how to handle the overall situation.
You are right about I may have to go with brother to his psych because my brother trusts him and will probably listen to his psych advice.
I dont know how to manage all this because I have 3 young kids and a husband. Its hard to schedule all this.
I was also not sure how to interact with my brother on the weekends. He stays at night with my parents , on weekends brings his autistic son, my dad takes turn to spend some time w/ grandson,
My brother does not want to socialize, he does not exercise or go out for a walk, i told him to try swimming at his workplace, always feels hopeless, he feels lonely and jealous everyone is enjoying life and not him.
Basically he needs a loving and understanding woman who can give him his needs and be a partner to help him go through this.
I know it must be so hard, especially when you have so many other responsibilities. I know it can be so frustrating…like you’re talking to a brick wall especially when he is consumed with negative emotions. That’s why it’s so important for him to get help, and I know how stubborn we can be when consumed by the illness. Has medication ever helped? Does he have any spiritual beliefs? My pastors have always been extremely supportive and helpful…to me and my husband.