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Was It Brave of Me to Go to a Mental Health Facility?

Alone in my car, an empty McDonald’s bag on the floor. In front of a mental facility. This was clearly not my finest moment but my most defining. I was drunk on sadness, frozen by fear and had a haze over my red eyes. Nothing could relieve it. My mom had called earlier in the day to set up an appointment with the intake nurse. I thought how baffling it was that you needed a time to come in and get checked out. I had missed class the entire week before I finally dragged myself out of bed and thought to go get help. I first started with my usual therapist on campus but found it no help and no use in walking a quarter-mile to see her again, telling her I want to die.

I spent eight hours trapped in a room, given terrible meals and talked to by three different people. Panic attacks left me frozen, my usual reaction, and heaving for an hour and a half. They don’t give medicine out till you’re an official patient, so I was stuck with my typical techniques. I remember being embarrassed at some point too. I couldn’t understand why I allowed myself to get to this point. I thought I didn’t need this. I demanded I was fine later and tried running off, to which I met a security guard prohibiting me. I was fine. I was fine. It had been 30 minutes since I last cried.

They suggested I stay for at least a week, but because of the outrageous prices of private mental health facilities and my father’s protest, I found myself at his home that night. They strongly recommended I go to partial hospitalization though, which is a step lower than inpatient treatment. Eight hours a day, seven days a week, you go to group therapy, individual therapy, back to group therapy and end with some seminar. My father, a nonbeliever in psychiatric treatment, refused. I told him about my state earlier in the morning. He said fine.

I was terrified, I ate lunch alone by myself, outside or in my car. I couldn’t talk in group therapy because nothing would come of this. But treatment can be scary. It’s not a vacation to get away from things. It’s not a simple program that cures you when you go. It’s work. I heard others bravely tell their stories, fears and dreams while I contemplated even talking. Within a few days, the others’ opening up affected me. I was actually moved to talk and share, no matter how scared I was or how big or how little my problems were. I realized people can’t undermine my feelings. I don’t need to apologize.

One of the first days in group, we were asked what we liked about ourselves. The people who had been there longer said many things, where new people like myself said nothing. This guy I befriended sitting next to me raised his hand and said, “Everyone who is here and new is brave. You guys had the courage to say you need help.” I carried that through the rest of treatment, sitting on it, wondering if I was actually brave. Was admitting I wasn’t fine, brave? Was sitting here, watching my parents’ wallets burn money because I was about to break, brave?

I’ve always dealt with the definition of brave because I don’t know what constitutes as brave. Saving people’s lives is brave. Doing work in foreign areas to help people, even if it puts you at risk, is brave. I didn’t register the fact that staying alive when you want to shut off your mind and body is brave. And I don’t think a lot of people do either.

With one in four adults experience severe mental health issues, it’s not taken as seriously as it needs to be. It’s seen as weak. I used to have a hard time just admitting I went to therapy, let alone a mental facility. What if we were to treat a mental illness just as a physical one? That’s not to trivialize an illness but to take both seriously. To be healthy in every way you could possibly be? To make yourself happy and OK? Is that a brave thing?

I have to remind myself of how brave I am even when I’m sitting in bed, crying and unable to move. I guess you could say I’m saving my own life.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo by Natouche