Healthcare regarding mental illness is seriously lacking in our country.
Recently, I decided that I needed to check myself in to a residential mental health treatment facility. The choice was not an easy one for me to make. I would be leaving my husband, children and would miss significant time at work. But I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I was or I might end up hurting myself. So, I reached out to a friend who deals with mental illness also and she suggested a place that has greatly helped her. I called the facility and they were full until the following week. At the time, I could not wait a week to get into treatment so I called my psychologist. He recommended I voluntarily check myself into the hospital near his practice so that he could come to treat me. I called the hospital and they told me that I would have to be screened in the ER before they could accept me upstairs.
I called my husband to tell him what my plan was and he agreed with it. He asked if I wanted him to drive me to the hospital, which I did. I packed a bag with clothing, books and a few necessities that I thought I would be allowed to have while in treatment. My husband came home from work, picked me up and drove me to the hospital.
At the ER, the receptionist asked what I was there for and I told her I was worried I was going to harm myself. After a few minutes, they brought me to a room and the nurses began their assessment. Soon, a doctor came in to speak to me and I explained that I was trying to check in for mental health and that I was told to come to the ER to do it. I was asked many questions about my mental conditions, my meds, suicide attempts, etc. She directly asked me if I had a plan. I knew the purpose of this question. If I said I had a plan, I would be put on a 72-hour hold in a psychiatric crisis unit. If I didn’t have a plan, they couldn’t officially call me suicidal and send me to a crisis unit. So I told her I didn’t really have a plan. The doctor sent in a psychiatric referral specialist to speak to me so they could decide the best way to help me. She was very nice and very knowledgeable and I felt at ease talking openly with her. We talked about a couple facilities that I could go to because the hospital I was in did not have a bed available. I made it clear that I would not accept being sent to the local crisis facility and they ensured me they would not try there. The doctor came back in and told me that because all their beds are full, the only way they could have me transferred to another facility was if I said I had a plan to harm myself. Since it was only a technicality in order to get me somewhere for treatment, I said I had a plan to take pills.
The moment I admitted to having a plan to harm myself, the doctor informed me that they were placing me on a 72-hour hold for my safety. I started crying uncontrollably. I had come to check myself in voluntarily, and now I was going to be held against my will. But again, they reassured me they were contacting places that were not crisis units. I calmed down and told my husband that he should go home since I would not be leaving for a while. He reluctantly left me waiting in the ER for a referral and transport to treatment.
Maybe 2 hours pass from the time my husband went home, and a police officer walks into my room and asks if I’m the transport. At this point, I had not been told by the nurse that they had found a facility to transfer me to. The nurse must have seen the officer and comes in to tell me I can get dressed to leave. I asked where I was being taken to and she told me it was another local hospital. After confirming that it wasn’t the crisis center I refused to be sent to, I changed into pajamas and left with the officer.
The officer and I arrive at the receiving hospital and we are walked down a maze of halls to the secured treatment area. I should have known at that point that this was not what I had intended, but I calmly entered and hoped for the best. I met a couple of staff that completed paperwork with me and took all my belongings to inventory and lock away. When they took my wedding ring from me I finally realized I had been sent to a secured crisis unit in the psych ward. It was late when I had arrived, so I wouldn’t be seeing a doctor until the next morning so I covered myself up in my bed and cried myself to sleep.
The next two days were a living hell. The doctor was terrible and after speaking to me for less than 10 minutes decided that I would be held until he decided I was safe to leave. I had a migraine so severe that I couldn’t see straight or hold down food the entire time I was there. I lost 10 lbs. in two days from not being able to eat, and throwing up any and everything that was in my stomach. I stayed in my bed and tried to sleep as much as I could to survive the headache and the severe stress I was under. I had horrendous nightmares. The psych ward was full of people with severe psychiatric illnesses. I was subject to men trying to essentially hit on me which turned to insulting me when I wouldn’t respond, a woman dancing down the hallways, an elderly woman who was slamming her head into a wall repeatedly until she was taken to a different unit for restraint, another woman who went on a long tirade during breakfast about there being no such things as God and that everyone is dead, staff who had inappropriate conversations around the patients with each other, and so much more.
Believe it or not, this is the short version of my story. The long version of my stay is too traumatic for me to spell out in detail. After 48-hours in the psych ward, between my husband and my psychologist I was finally discharged, against the treating doctor’s wishes, and legally put into the care of my husband. Since leaving the hospital I continue to have terrible nightmares about myself or my family. I couldn’t get to sleep for longer than an hour the first week I was back home. The sound of heavy doors closing and keys jingling caused me to have anxiety attacks. I told my husband that ‘treatment’ did more damage than good. But I didn’t even know the extent of the damage until last week. While writing all the details of my stay in the hospital, I started having flashbacks and went into a full PTSD panic attack while at work. I suffer from panic disorder, but I have never had one as severe as the one that day.
The health care system failed me those days and, in fact, made my conditions worse. I hope that one day our health care system learns how to help people with mental illness rather than lock them away and throw out the key like they tried to do with me.