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I Almost Chose to Be Hospitalized for My Mental Health. Here's Why I Changed My Mind

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. If you need support right now, you can call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988, or text HOME to 741-741 to reach the Crisis Text Line if you are in the U.S. A list of crisis centers around the world can be found here.

What do you do when the mental health resources available would hurt you more than they would help you?

That’s a question I had to sit with recently, as passive suicidal ideation became active, and for the first time in my life, I became a danger to myself. While the moment didn’t last long, it was jarring enough that I knew I needed some form of help because at that moment I did not trust myself. I would have text or called the suicide hotline, but I live in Florida where we have the Baker Act law; where I probably just needed to talk to someone and be talked down to, they would have put me in an involuntary hold for some time. Realistically knowing myself, I’d wake up the next day not feeling this way, so that was out of the question, but maybe a voluntary hold would be different.

Here on The Mighty, we have so many stories about the pros and cons of hospitalization. It’s genuinely saved lives, while it’s harmed others. I see these stories every day, and read the comments. I’m a firm believer in reaching out for the help you need, and if that means you need to be hospitalized then I think you should do it. At that moment I realized being hospitalized wouldn’t give me what I needed and it’s partially because I knew myself, but also because of the health care system at large in the state that I live in.

Florida ranks 41st in health care, and it shows in how they treat their mental health inpatients.

When the feeling came over me, I called a friend who had been hospitalized fairly recently, asking their honest opinion and if this is something I should do, and their answer dismayed me. Once again, this is their individual experience. The largest takeaways were that bottom line — they’d keep me alive, but that’s all they would do. No more, no less. They’d do that by watching you, making sure you couldn’t harm yourself in any way, which is fine, and they’d solve overstimulation with understimulation. Hearing that, I knew that I’d be left alone with my thoughts for too long and the healthy ways I’ve learned how to cope on my own wouldn’t be available to me. 

I thought that inpatient care was supposed to be more hands-on, but from my friend’s perspective, it wasn’t. It sounded more like babysitting than anything else, and given that, once again, Florida is one of the worst-ranked states for mental health care, it’s not surprising. 

I was paranoid I wouldn’t be listened to or heard. Maybe I would have, but the precedent based on the first-hand experiences that I had heard made me believe otherwise. That’s why I chose not to go. I needed help, but not like that. I didn’t need a resource that would have made me worse, only to go into medical debt after.

I needed (read: need) help, and I’m trying to think about what changes would be beneficial to our health care system that would promote me getting support. Based on my friend’s experience, here’s the conclusions I’ve come to:

1. A more thorough and personalized touch to the patient.

I have a therapist, and I do talk to my friends and family about my struggles. I think that by needing to reach out for more extensive help such as a voluntary stay, I’m trying to find more intentional care immediately. Yes, they’ll give a diagnosis and maybe some medication, but how much would I be heard and listened to? I’m doing everything “right,” at the moment. Would I just be a number or a name on a bracelet, or would they really give me the attention I’m craving? Would they believe me if I told them that I know what I need, or would they ignore it? That, or would they tell me something I already know, like I’m living with depression? 

“Hearing ‘they will just keep you alive,’ doesn’t sound like treatment. It doesn’t sound like care. It definitely doesn’t sound like trauma-informed care.”

2. Affordable healthcare.

I am insured thanks to my job, and that insurance helps! However, even with insurance, the bill I would have accumulated would have set me back in ways that, quite frankly, may have made me more suicidal. It feels like I’d be paying for the care I wouldn’t actually get, and that doesn’t make sense to me. We live in a country where people would rather take Ubers to the hospital or prefer to not get care at all, just because of the potential bill. If we had a more affordable (read: universal) health care system that prioritized the needs of the patient, I may have made the jump to get hospitalized. Maybe it would have helped me, but taking a risk and winding up in debt based on a “maybe” wasn’t feasible to me. 

3. Something more than “they will just keep you alive.”

Let me explain:

Just keeping someone alive is babysitting. Yes, I had a moment where I was a danger to myself, but I was self-aware to see it, acknowledge it, and even know that the moment would eventually pass (and it did). Let’s say I did decide to go in, and they just kept me alive. What would stop the whole process from happening again?

I know that it’s important to have a care team, I do. My safety and wellness plan is very thorough and it’s gotten me through a lot of moments. Maybe I misunderstand the purpose of a voluntary Baker Act, and that’s all they’re supposed to do, but hearing “they will just keep you alive” doesn’t sound like treatment. It doesn’t sound like care. It definitely doesn’t sound like trauma-informed care. Those are the three things I know I’d need at that moment. The “counseling” I’d receive, as described by my friend, was really just a psych evaluation that I’ve already received. Yes, keeping me alive is considered a big deal, but beyond that where would the value be?

I made it through that dark night, and my thoughts are back to being “harmless” passive thoughts, but I can’t pretend I’m not afraid for the day it gets that bad again and I haven’t figured out what other options to take. I’m not confident enough in our health care system to rely on it, but that means relying on myself and that’s almost just as scary. 

I hope these things shift because right now I don’t feel that I can take the risk. If I was “bad enough,” I’d do it, but because I know that even in my worst moments I wouldn’t take action, I would 100% take the risk, but I don’t trust the system at play. Maybe one day when I’m in a different state or country, but not today.

Getty Images photo via Prostock-Studio

Originally published: September 20, 2022
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