“She fought for patients’ rights, then she was put in a hospital against her will”


The Washington Post covers the story of Alison Hymes, a prominent advocate against forced psychiatric treatment who later became engaged in Virginia’s mental health system herself and was involuntarily committed.

“Hymes was no ordinary patient,” reports the Post. “Before landing at Western, she spent years urging others with mental illness and their families not to let doctors, judges and social workers make decisions for them. She was part of a state task force charged with reforming civil commitment laws at the time of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, serving alongside doctors, academics, and law enforcement officials. The daughter of a prominent University of Virginia linguist, Hymes argued vehemently — and unsuccessfully — against loosening the state’s commitment criteria… Anyone who knew Hymes from her days on the state’s commitment task force would not have recognized the timid woman in the hospital waiting room.”

In a letter to the editor, the executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness writes that too many people like Hymes do not receive truly “evidence-based care.”

She fought for patients’ rights, then she was put in a hospital against her will (The Washington Post, January 31, 2015)

Letters to the Editor – Where Virginia’s mental health system failed (The Washington Post, February 5, 2015)


    • I have to wonder if she even read the article about Hymes? Did she fail to comprehend that Hymes has and still is receiving an absolute ton of evidence based care, including medication and therapy? The article even pointed to Hymes’ lithium induced kidney failure and subsequent transplant as the initial cause of her current problems.

      I wonder if Hymes’ nurses ever stopped yelling at her for not cleaning up after herself long enough to check if she was actually too sick or too drugged to do so? Yelling at a hospitalized woman who’s undergone a kidney transplant and is on 17 different medications for not cleaning up after herself. How in the world would she? Welcome to the world of behavioral health.

      Report comment

  1. Another psychiatric success story. It is sad to hear how her body deteriorated over time due to the treatment that she received, and yet she continued to get worse over time. It is pitiful what passes for mental health treatment in this country today. The image of her getting a box with her stuff says so much about the lack of compassion with which these people are treated by the system that is supposed to help them. 99% of the focus is on medication, and almost none on any kind of social or emotional support. And when other programming is funded, it’s for the short term and is often stopped even when it’s successful.

    I can easily see why this woman is opposed to loosening constitutional protections against enforced treatment, and I hope anyone reading can as well. This is not just a story about the ravages of “mental illness.” It is about a system that fails its patients again and again, and often ultimately results in their early death. We have to do better than this!

    Report comment

      • You got that right.

        Alison lost her kidneys through compliance (i.e. being a good little mental patient aka mental health services consumer). She was, afterwards, quite the advocate regarding the toxic effects of lithium. She got a transplant. The effect of the drugs she was taking for her transplant may have contributed to her psychiatric convalesce in the state hospital. She has, or had, some understanding of the dangerousness and damaging effects of neuroleptic drugs, too, but when you’re subject to the system the way you never had been in the past, well, old lessons can be forgotten. Besides, there is no question of choice, she was there against her will and wishes. She was worried about dying in the hospital. She had a couple of aneurysms while in the hospital. The wonder, if there’s any wonder, is that she’s still alive.

        Report comment

  2. This is intensely frightening and begs the question of why this woman has no competent legal support and widespread backup from this so-called movement. Without an emergency response network offering legal and political support — capable of addressing all the standard illogical arguments for forced incarceration and “treatment” — no one will dare challenge this system in the smallest way. And why should they if they can be snatched up without a massive outcry and with no one having their backs?

    Angry protests from survivors will have no effect by themselves — it’s time for “professionals” to start agitating from within, pulling strings or whatever is needed to save the lives of activists targeted by the system. Does anyone believe there’s anything else going on here?

    Report comment