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Why I Wrote an Interactive Novel on Surviving the Psychiatric System


If you are a client of psychiatric professionals for long enough, you’ve probably made a contract for your own safety. This could be part of a much broader plan that lists your triggers, symptoms and activities you can use to self-soothe. Perhaps there isn’t a formal plan – perhaps it was only an agreement that you won’t attempt suicide. In almost all cases, you’re often instructed to call an ambulance or go to the nearest hospital if you aren’t safe on your own.

Go to the hospital – it’s a simple answer, isn’t it? Just show up at the emergency room and let the doctors decide what to do with you. However, one potential problem is that there is no guarantee you’ll get a bed. There are usually never enough psych beds for those who need them. Beyond that, even if you are admitted, psychiatric wards are often places of trauma, as well as places of healing.

I’ve been to many psychiatric wards throughout Ontario. Quality of care varies from hospital to hospital, but in all cases you are giving up personal agency. Psychiatric wards are a structured environment with many rules. There is often a ban on electronics, meaning no cell phones, laptops or video games. Sometimes having access to your cell phone is a privilege you can earn or lose. Other common privileges include the right to wear your own clothing and the right to go outside on hospital grounds.

Bargaining for privileges is often a humiliating process, but what strikes me is how little accountability there is for abusive behavior toward patients. Some hospitals are better than others, but human rights abuses are everywhere. It’s difficult to prove instances of abuse when you normally meet with staff one-on-one. Staff also have exclusive control over what is written in your chart, leaving you with minimal control over how your experience is represented.

These subtle microaggressions are difficult to describe to people who haven’t experienced the system. My experience of hospitals – as partly healing and partly traumatizing – lead me to write an interactive novel on survival in the psychiatric system.

Inpatient: A Psychiatric Story” is the culmination of over a year of work, writing and reliving my trauma. You take on the role of a woman trying to save herself from suicide. Inpatient covers a 72 hour hospital admission. It is free to play for people who can’t afford to contribute. It is my hope that this project, and similar works, will lead to more conversations on what our mental health systems have to offer. Ultimately, I hope we can create more healing spaces for us all.

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Unsplash image via Val Versa