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My Brother Died in a Psychiatric Hospital


Editor's Note

If you or someone you love has had a traumatic experience in a psychiatric hospital, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Hearing this story and looking at the picture above might make you want to wince, cringe and turn away. I ask that you don’t turn away.

However, a warning for some: This blog may be disturbing, please listen to yourself and decide if you are in a good place to read it.

This is my first blog as just Shannon Jaccard and not the CEO of NAMI San Diego, though that will always be a part of my life. Throughout my years of being a mental health advocate there was always one group of people that were constantly forgotten; siblings. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been interviewing siblings about their journeys. From two perspectives. One is the viewpoint of the person who has mental illness in regard to their experience with their siblings. The other is from a brother or sister who grew up with the sibling who experienced mental illness. Our stories need to be shared.

Back to the picture. I’m a sister of a brother who was diagnosed with a mental illness. Whether it be called schizophrenia like the doctors said, or anxiety like he felt and experienced, it doesn’t actually matter. What matters is the symptoms that bothered him, the isolation he experienced and the picture.

My brother ended up in several locked psychiatric hospitalizations throughout the course of his life. Some good, some traumatic. I was a constant visitor and became fairly familiar with many of the staff. My brother and I would hang out, sometimes play cards, sometimes chat, sometimes just sit together. At the end of our allotted one-hour visitation, he would always try to hide me in a corner so that I would stay until the very last minute before the staff would kick me out. Unfortunately, many hospitals still have a one-hour visitation rule. Why there is a difference between the needs of psychiatric patients with having loved ones visit and cardiac patients, I will never understand. The good news is, from what I’ve seen, many hospitals are starting to open up those hours.

Upon my arrival, the staff would share with me how he was doing that day. A few too many times they would say, “He had a rough day.” I always assumed these “rough” days evolved around his mental health, i.e. being sad, anxious, etc. Never did it cross my mind that these “rough” days meant they had tied him to a bed, literally.

It wasn’t until one day, where his “rough” day would turn into his last day, did I learn about the use of mechanical restraints. I’m not here today to debate the use of restraints, though I do believe they are overused and that trauma from the usage of restraints causes the individual to never want to come back to a hospital, even when they need it. We need hospitals to be seen as a tool, not cruel, so that when needed it feels like a safe place to turn to in dark moments.

For my brother, he will not get the option. After wanting to go on a cigarette break two minutes before the allotted time, he became agitated. The staff gave him multiple medications, placed him faced down on a bed and tied him up in a five point prone restraint and left the room. Within minutes, my 25-year-old brother had a heart attack and died alone in a grey room tied to bed. I don’t know why my brother never told me that these “rough” days consisted of the use of restraints. I will live with feeling like I missed something, like I could have fought harder.

Today I do a lot of work with hospitals because I do believe we need them, but they need to be a place of healing, a place where people want to go to voluntarily — not just by force, which is often the case. But today, I also feel passionate about giving siblings a voice which we have been long denied.

More to come and I’m open to thoughts, concerns and your sibling voice as well.

For more information on myths and facts of restraints go to Recovery Not Restraints.

Follow this journey on Shannon’s site.

Getty image via Kimmariesmith