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My 24 Hours at a Psych Hospital Didn't Make Me Less Suicidal

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While struggling with suicidal thoughts, I decided to admit myself into the hospital where I could be safe and receive proper treatment. You may wonder why it was only a 24-hour stay and you are right. However, what I lived through those 24 hours was enough to break my soul.

I walked in with my mother and my aunt, terrified. The place looked neat, it had a garden, I figured I can take walks and smoke my cigarette in peace while reading my book. The nurses met me and they were very welcoming and reassuring. They told me I was not alone and that I would be taken care of. I went there thinking I will not only receive the proper medication, but also intensive therapy that will help me cope with my bipolar and my borderline personality disorder.

They settled me into my room, which had two beds, a huge window that opens right to the garden, which I liked, only to find out few seconds later that the window is closed and patients aren’t allowed in the garden except one hour a day. A garden that is surrounded with a long fence, one that is hard to escape from. Bit by bit, I started to realize this place was more of a prison than anything else really.

My mother helped me organize my clothes in the wardrobe while the nurses had to check my bag like I was a criminal. They took away everything that can possibly keep me distracted during my stay. They took away my sketch book (they said it had wires) and pencils, they took away my phone, they took away my cigarettes. My Kindle had to be approved by the doctor after many attempts of me explaining to the nurse what a Kindle is and insisting it would stay with me. I was physically searched, asked to take my clothes off for some reason I fail to understand to this very moment. It was uncomfortable and humiliating.

Watching my mother leave was one of the hardest moments I’ve ever went through. It was like the little girl inside me screaming on the top of her lungs, “Mommy please come back, don’t leave me here.” However, I decided to put on my strong face and stay in hopes that I receive proper treatment. I stayed — but I wish I hadn’t. I wasn’t allowed visits. I wasn’t allowed phone calls. I couldn’t call my own parents. There was nothing to do except sit in the lobby and watch TV, a very old one. We were allowed only one hour at the gym. Socializing was also hard because half the people there were receiving electroshock therapy and were forgetful. They would repeat the same horror stories and would ask me repeatedly for my name. I was alone, left with my dark thoughts, the same ones that got me into this place from the first place.

After talking with the other patients, I realized that this was it. This was how they spent their days. It’s all there was. There was no art therapy, no individual or group therapy. This was it.

I spent the entire evening and the following morning arguing with the nurses because I needed to call my parents to get me out. I was told I am not allowed a phone call. After a lot of arguing, they told me the doctor has to approve. I waited hours for the doctor to show up, the one who’s supposed to be dealing with my case. I had to remain calm and hide all my fear so I can convince her to give me that phone call. Never have I ever felt this humiliated in my life. She finally agreed and I called my parents who were reluctant to get me out but despite that they complied.

Those 24 hours made me more suicidal than I already was. It made me feel like I am being incarcerated, rather than hospitalized and taken care of.

This was my first admission to a psychiatric hospital but my idea of a hospital is one that’s completely different than what I had to endure. One that’s actually therapeutic rather than traumatizing.

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When I got out, I was met with disappointment from most people around me. They wanted me to give it a chance, but to me, those 24 hours were enough for me to judge. I do not want to be treated like a prisoner. I do not want to be locked up. I am seeking treatment myself and I wasn’t going to get it. I needed intensive therapy and I was told it’s not happening. I needed group therapy and it wasn’t in their plans. Their idea was to lock me up and keep me from hurting myself, but did that actually make my suicidal plans disappear? Absolutely not. It was just a pause.

Psychiatric hospitals need to be different. People with mental illnesses need to be treated differently, with respect, without taking away their agency, their autonomy, their sense of freedom. Isn’t it enough that we live in a prison of our own? You actually think your prison is going to keep me from attempting suicide in the future? If you do, you are delusional. You just put a bandage rather than dealing with the root of the problem. Well, I ripped off the bandage and I am seeking my treatment elsewhere; somewhere more humane.

Mental health has not only been neglected for so long, but also dealt with in the wrong way. Suicidal patients do not need to be locked up in a prison-like facility, they need to be put in a safe environment that offers the treatment and support they need.

It’s time for the society’s mindset to shift, people with mental illness might struggle, but  they do not need to be alienated or isolated. They need to connect, communicate, and have a sense of community and belonging. My advice is: before you admit yourself into a psychiatric hospital, ask about your rights and make sure you agree with their terms.

Getty image via image_jungle

Originally published: October 7, 2020
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