Hi. I’m a 25-year-old newlywed woman. I’ve been detained in mental hospitals ten times in the past three years and I survived two suicide attempts. Before I was 22, I had no mental health issues.
The first time I was in a mental hospital, I put myself there. I wanted to kill myself, but I didn’t want to kill my niece’s aunt. So, I put down the shotgun and picked up a phone.
The suicide hotline referred me to Seven Hills Hospital in Las Vegas, NV. I agreed to bring myself in for a consultation. I didn’t know then that had I refused to come in for the consult, there was a good chance the police would be sent to my house.
My main memory of the hospitalization was crying. A lot. Constantly. Now, I’ve become emotionless. I can’t imagine caring about something so much it would make me cry.
Now, I have almost nothing left to care about.
At the time, my forehead was swollen with acne. It was so intense it felt like a third-degree burn. That’s what happens when you’re only able to sleep a couple of times a week.
I found the other patients more relatable than any peer group I had ever been a part of. One of my closest friends was a young overweight man in a wheelchair. Eventually I asked why he was in the wheelchair. He was currently hallucinating so badly that he couldn’t stand. He told me he was schizophrenic, and I was fascinated.
“What’s it like?” I asked.
“I wish I could explain,” he responded.
“Well, what kind of things do you hallucinate?”
“You see that wall behind you?”
I looked over my shoulder.
He said, “It’s melting.”
Then he asked, “Why are you here?”
We had the freedom to say anything we wanted. Thanks to HIPAA laws, it was illegal for us to reveal the identity of anyone we had met there. I only got therapy talking to the other patients, I did not receive any meaningful therapy from the hospital. Even though I got therapy from some patients, other patients were dangerous for me to talk to. They would trick me, for amusement, into further believing in my delusions, for example.
I wasn’t embarrassed during that hospitalization: almost everyone was in the same boat. I wasn’t afraid of losing my reputation. I could finally just speak.
My friend understandably opted not to ask why I was suicidal and changed the subject.
“What do you do?”
“I own a business.”
I nodded my head and looked down.
“How well does it do?”
“I have five employees.”
He just stared at me for several seconds and smiled.
“I can’t say.”
“What do you do?”
“We manufacture patches for the police and stuff.”
“No way! Didn’t you say you were only 22?”
“What are you doing here? If I had a business, a way to make my own money, I wouldn’t be here.”
I felt ashamed. I had everything going for me. I had spent the last ten years of my life transforming from the destitute fat kid to a martial artist with impeccable health. I owned a house. I had a six-figure income.
But I knew exactly why I was there. The shame quickly melted into grief and I started crying again.
He didn’t say anything else. I cried all the time and he was used to it.
I received an incorrect perception of the mental hospital. I liked it and it was helping me — I didn’t realize how much it was hurting the people around me until much later.
I was diagnosed with psychotic depression. After five days, I finally felt stable enough to check myself out. I had never been there by force, as far as I knew.
When the psychiatrist prescribed me Zoloft, he did not warn me that it could cause a manic episode.
So my second hospitalization was a disaster.
There are two wards in a mental hospital: the psychotic ward (“upstairs”) and the suicidal/depressed ward (“downstairs”). My first time in a mental hospital we heard loud noises coming from the ceiling all the time.
I asked, “What is going on up there?”
They said, “Upstairs is for the truly crazy people.”
The second hospital was called Desert Parkway in Las Vegas. The rule about upstairs and downstairs was the same. I was upstairs. I would finally learn what it was really like.
Everything was different.
No one was there by choice (including me). Most had been brought in by the police (some even facing charges). A couple people were forcibly committed by their family.
My mom had committed me because a month after my first hospitalization, my Zoloft dose was doubled and I was sent into an incredibly intense manic episode. I had driven from my brother’s place in Utah to my house in Las Vegas. I was convinced that God was talking to me through everyone and everything. That I was the next prophet of Mormonism. I sped with my hands off the wheel of my car, “trusting God to keep me safe.”
I also believed that demons were following me and inserting thoughts into people nearby. I thought they were forcing people to try and kill, hurt, or kidnap me. Since I was later kidnapped (not that anyone believes me) maybe it was true, on some level.
Psychiatry is atheistic. Which makes it incredibly difficult for religious people to navigate. You are told that everything you have ever believed in is delusional, not just the parts that are negatively affecting your life.
Well thank God he really was looking out and I didn’t die driving back.
The manic episode was my first and it was induced by Zoloft. The doctors knew I might be bipolar and if so, the Zoloft could cause this. But they had not warned me or my family.
If they had, my family would have easily seen the warning signs for an incoming manic episode and had me see a psychiatrist on the outside to be weaned off and get emergency therapy — before it got that bad.
But they didn’t inform us. They do that on purpose because they want people sick.
This time I was in the psychotic ward. Everyone there was enraged.
Many had been held there for over two weeks against their will. There were only three phones and 25-35 adults were fighting over them during the few hours of the day we had access to them. Because people there were losing pets, cars, houses, jobs, personal property, airplane flights, and more. And everyone NEEDED the phone.
The majority of the patients — correction, detainees — were substance abusers being detoxed against their will. All patients in mental hospitals truly are detainees. What I have seen in hospital after hospital (and in statistics too) is that roughly 75% of all patients in mental hospitals are substance abusers, with only a quarter of that 75% diagnosed with just a mood disorder. That leaves the other 25% completely at the substance abusers’ mercy.
For the most part, people don’t check themselves themselves in to hospitals. Substance abusers forced into treatment generally aren’t nice people. They can be sadistic, manipulative, and violent. That doesn’t mean they are worse people or that they don’t deserve treatment. However, their treatment should be separated from people with just mood disorders as they are incredibly vulnerable. These are the worst two groups of people to house together for weeks at a time.
Often, that 25% is turned into substance abusers upon release. I was offered illegal drugs by at least one patient during each hospitalization: cocaine, meth, heroin, and more. In one hospitalization, two of the patients became my friends. I told them I was a web designer and they tried to convince me to create a website to sell drugs on. When I am psychotic, I am so easy to manipulate. Fortunately I didn’t try any illegal substances, but I know many people ended up doing so. Which is why a quarter of the substance abusers have a mood disorder as well. I fully believe that the drug epidemic is mostly caused by mental institutions.
Group therapy largely consisted of alcohol and substance abuse discussions. I had no issues with addiction, but there wasn’t an alternative group to attend. These discussions were also aimed toward personality disorder therapy rather than therapy for psychosis (each should be approached in complete opposite ways).
My largest qualm: we weren’t allowed pens. Which is understandable. They provided tiny wooden golf pencils as an alternative at every hospital I ever went to. Even that I could consent to (I did not want a psychotic person there to stab me with a pen or a long pencil).
Sometimes there was a big box of assorted washable Crayola markets. However, most of the thin-tip markers had been taken and hidden in other patients’ rooms because there wasn’t enough for everyone. It’s pretty impossible to write or draw anything with the big fat broadline markers. Anyway, most of the dark colors like purple, brown and black were either dried up or missing.
So we had pencils. They refused to sharpen the pencils. So, we had no way to write or do art. In desperation I sometimes picked out pieces of lead from the pencil and sharpened them by rubbing their sides against paper, until the pencil was finally somewhat usable.
I desperately need to write and draw while manic, or I can’t sleep and will even start tearing my hair out. This could be easily remedied — they have specially designed bendy pens for prisoners. Apparently, prisons are better equipped to give detainees more comfort than the hospitals are. Which is unacceptable when you consider that the hospitals are paid thousands of dollars a day for you to be there.
Thousands of dollars and they can’t afford to give you a $5 pen.
We only got one hour of recreational therapy a day. Some days it was an hour in the art room, other days it was an hour in the gym. Aside from the gym we were in cramped hallways and a small dayroom. We couldn’t get physical activity for days at a time.
When I was able to work out, it was difficult. I didn’t have any shoes because my shoes had had laces in them. Some patients wore laceless shoes and the rest wore socks. I can’t walk or run much without shoes — without the arch support I get very bad shin splints. I also slipped and fell many times playing basketball or jogging in a small circle.
Why, when it costs thousands of dollars a day to stay there, can they not provide laceless shoes to patients who don’t have any? Some of the hospitals did do something: they gave us socks with rubber patches on the bottom. But I can’t imagine that cheap shoes cost much more money. Other patients often stepped on top of my feet on purpose, since they were wearing shoes and I wasn’t.
For all the hours of the day, I had nothing to do except sit in the dayroom watching TV (but never having a choice of what we watched), playing cards with insane people, talking to insane people, and walking up and down the hall.
I did want to read, but if our families brought in hardcover books, we wouldn’t get them. My family didn’t bring in any, anyway. I usually desperately wanted the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Most of the time, they didn’t have any (which is against the law).
Also, when I was admitted I was usually wearing something I wouldn’t be allowed to wear in the hospital. So, they would give me AWFUL clothing to wear. Once I was in a hospital gown that wraps around you three times. Usually it was scrubs. In one hospital it was nice, we got plain grey sweatpants, a shirt, and a matching grey hoodie.
However, in most hospitals there wasn’t enough underwear. They give you the cheapest, thinnest pair of grandma underwear ever, but they can’t afford to have enough? I was only given one or two pairs of underwear.
We did our own laundry, but they didn’t have enough machines, so we fought over that as well. With only one outfit and two pairs of underwear, I had to wash my clothes at least once every three days. Some people had the luxury of only having to wash their clothes every five days or even longer. Sometimes I would go several days without being able to snag a washing machine and smelling bad was another huge embarrassment in the ward.
Families were able to bring in outside clothes deemed safe by the hospital. Most patients wore them. My family wouldn’t do this. This would signify to the other patients that your family didn’t care about you (which usually meant you must be a bad person). In a hospital gown or cheap scrubs, it was even more embarrassing. It was also cold, sometimes difficult to hide your private parts, and left you easily attacked for the amusement of other patients.
A mental hospital is like a deranged dystopian high school.
You had to attend every single group. Your attendance was marked and if you didn’t attend group you were absent. Absence of more than one group a day meant that you “weren’t complying with treatment” and they could use it to justify keeping you longer to your insurance company. Groups were six hours a day.
The upstairs was chaotic, dangerous, and emotionally and physically violent. Sometimes people were yelling and throwing things. But these weren’t the most harmful moments.
Even during the quiet, “calm” times there was still constant emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse from other patients and staff. A psychotic person is in a fragile state: they are easily manipulated, paranoid and incredibly vulnerable to emotional attacks. They are forced to live in this state with criminals and drug addicts who are bored, very bored, and angry.
When my mom admitted me, I was so manic that I had no problem with it. I thought it was a test (I had to prove to God that I was submissive and positive or he would stop helping me and demons would kill me), and if I passed all of the tests the leader of the Mormon church would come get me and take me to my life of painting for them.
I baptized myself in an intake room with a styrofoam cup of water while my mom watched. I then did cartwheels in the hallway (I hadn’t done a cartwheel since I was like six years old). I had period blood running down my pants, which the entire ward saw when I was first brought in to change in my room.
For the first two days I was convinced that at any moment the leader of the Mormon church would walk into my room to collect me. Everyone would stop acting like they didn’t know I was the prophet. I just had to stay committed to the act.
I made up my own sign language and took a vow of silence.
That night I had a delusion that I was being possessed by an African slave. I hallucinated being on a slave ship, including banging my arm on the bed to create a song in unison with the other slaves slamming their hands.
They put me on “one on one” — this is when one of the nurse practitioners always sits near you and watches you. She sat outside the door to my room while I acted out these hallucinations.
Eventually I became convinced that God could hide me if I snuck out under a sheet. Then I could wait, invisible, at the locked door at the end of the hallway until someone opened it and I could escape.
Remember, this manic episode was entirely induced by a high prescription of Zoloft. I had never had a manic episode before.
When I ignored my one-on-one nurse’s demand to go back to my room, things changed. Two other nurses grabbed me and threw me into the “quiet room” which is a closet-sized room with a bed with restraints on it in the middle. I wasn’t tied down to the bed this time, but they left me locked in the room.
I continued to act out hallucinations, stand on top of the table, etc. Eventually they decided to give me a shot. They came in, held me down, pulled down my pants in front of three men, and administered a shot to my butt. I don’t remember much after that.
I woke up the next day feeling too sick to do, say, or think anything. They had taken me off a medication cold turkey and I was going through immediate withdrawals. I was not warned that I would be going through withdrawals.
I was so sick the room never stopped spinning, I vomited several times, and it felt like I had the flu. I did not know I was going through withdrawals, so I assumed the new medications they had put me on were making me that sick.
I refused to take my medication. Anthony the nurse warned me that he would give me another shot if I didn’t take it. I had no choice. I took it and I felt even worse.
I became so sick that I couldn’t get out of bed. Any movement hurt. I was freezing cold, but they didn’t have any more blankets. To make it even worse, my roommate was completely out of her mind and was up talking to people that weren’t there all night, walking around in circles and turning the lights on and off. I desperately needed to sleep but she wouldn’t let me.
My roommate was also violent. She had multiple personality disorder and was completely psychotic at all times. I was terrified she would kill me in my sleep and she threatened me verbally and physically all the time. She should have been in her own room, alone. I had seen it done at other hospitals.
The ward didn’t have one single open bed. They were doing a good job of turning a profit by being full all the time.
I went to the nurses’ station and asked if I could leave because it had been more than 72 hours. They said they needed my doctor’s approval and that they would ask him.
A few minutes later the practitioner came to my room and told me that because I had not been attending group, I was not participating in my treatment, and I couldn’t be considered for release until I started attending all of them. I was so sick that all I could do was lay in bed all day. I wouldn’t even go downstairs for meals. At first they brought them up to me, but eventually they said if I wanted to eat I had to go to the lunch room downstairs, or I would go hungry. I went hungry. I was barely eating anyways.
One of my delusions was traumatic: I became convinced that the medications were designed to make me so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. Then I wouldn’t be able to go to group, so they could tell my family and insurance company I wasn’t participating, so they could continue to give me poisonous medications, so that I couldn’t get up to go to groups… basically I thought I was in a program designed to keep me locked up for years while they milked my insurance for money.
It literally felt like the sickness would never end. For days I was convinced it wouldn’t. I thought I was going to die there — after years of torment.
After I was finally able to force myself out of bed, I started attending group. I remember how impossible it felt to sit in the chair. I was so sick I needed to lay down, but I had to get out of that hospital ASAP. So, I forced myself to go.
I had to listen to drug addicts and criminals tell stories hoping to win validation from their peers. This is one of the most boring, obnoxious discussions you can listen to. I had to do it for hours every day feeling so horribly ill.
That’s when I had to start socializing with the patients who had witnessed all my psychotic episodes for the past three days.
There were many incidents of major abuse from other patients and staff members during all of my hospitalizations.
An old fat man started hitting on me. I told the staff I was uncomfortable. They did nothing. He gave me a piece of paper with an email that said something like [email protected]
I brought it straight to staff and begged them to move him to the other psychotic ward or transfer me downstairs. No beds. They refused. He was friends with two women, who started to try and take my personal folders from me. My folder had my full name inside of it and a list of family members and their phone numbers.
I was incredibly paranoid they would take it from me. All day every day I had that folder in my hand or underneath it. I wasn’t allowed to take it to meals, so I had to slide it under my door where it would be locked away.
But in the daytime all the rooms were open, and I couldn’t safely leave it there. So instead I had to be incredibly paranoid about it all the time. Which this man’s friends exploited for fun. I was 23 years old at this point and these people were all in their 30’s to 60’s.
Once the man cornered me in a poorly designed wing (there was a group room that was open around a corner where the staff couldn’t see). He cornered me there and it was terrifying. Another 20-something man stepped in and got him to back off.
One woman told the twenty or so people I was forced to live closely with that I was a meth addict. She convinced everyone that all the delusions I came in with were my fault because I was a drug addict. Thus it was fine and fun to ridicule me. I had never done an illegal drug. All the emotional abuse was devastating. Later she punched me and another time she threw urine on me.
There were never any beds open downstairs, even if you were stable enough to be there. Near the end of all my forced hospital stays, I would finally be moved downstairs, and being in that environment would help me again. Like it helped me the first time. But at that point I was so tortured from captivity I just wanted out.
The 72-hour hold is a lie. The police or the family can demand a person be held for at least 72 hours — after that, the doctor can keep you for as long as they want or until you request to go to mental health court.
After you make the request it can take up to two weeks (and usually does) before your case is heard. If the mental health court doesn’t find you competent and you are court ordered to stay in the hospital, you lose many rights permanently, including the right to own firearms, or to not disclose your diagnosis to employers, etc.
So at first, you don’t want to go to court because the doctor says you just “need a few more days.” Why take the risk? You’ll be out of there before the court date anyway, right?
Then a week passes, and you start to panic — the doctor is finding all these tiny reasons to keep you, and now it seems the only way out is through court. From that point, you have to wait another two weeks.
This is how I met people in the hospital who had been detained there for over a month without any sort of hearing or appeal process.
After witnessing this happen consistently to hundreds of people, I know this is a fact. All the psychiatrists at the hospital care about is: Liability and Insurance. They do not care about your mental health. I have met over 12 different hospital psychiatrists and every single one of them were the same.
There are good psychiatrists in the world. None of them work in mental hospitals. They see what is going on, and they quit. And they do everything they can to keep their patients from ever going to one. I know this because I now have a good psychiatrist and he was appalled that I had been in so many hospitals in the past three years. He told me he was aware of how awful they were, and that we would work together to not let it happen again.
I had the same conversation with two other not-so-good psychiatrists. Even they agreed.
If you have good insurance, the hospital will use anything they can against you to prove to the insurance company that you need to be there. Health insurance is the true decider — if they think someone is at risk, they will opt to continue paying for the hospitalization. This is because if they refuse someone treatment and they hurt themselves or someone else, the insurance company can be held liable. Also, if they let go of someone prematurely, they think that person might get worse and need to return for a longer stay or make costly trips to the ER, etc.
The standards that insurance companies require to continue paying thousands of dollars a day for your bed are incredibly low for this reason.
HUGE TIP: If you find yourself or a loved one in a mental hospital when you shouldn’t be, call your insurance company and ask for your case manager. You will have a case and a case manager as soon as you are admitted to the hospital. This person is who really decides if you stay or go. You and your family will have a much easier time persuading this person rather than the doctor. No staff or patients at the hospital will tell you this. I figured it out myself, and it worked once. (Other times I couldn’t get anyone to give me the phone number to my insurance.)
The doctors know the game. Many hospitals are privately owned with the doctors earning a percentage. If all their beds are full all the time (which they are — every time I have gone in, they were at max capacity) they make a good profit that quarter. Profit = larger dividend. There is a clear conflict of interest.
Most hospital psychiatrists are purposely harming their patients to make money off their insurance. It’s like a doctor in the ICU prescribing the wrong medications on purpose to keep a person there just to make money off them. They do it, it hurts the person, and that ends up helping them make even more money later when the person relapses and must come back.
The hospital is not liable for letting a person leave early — the insurance company is. Which means that no one will be held responsible when an uninsured person walks out of a hospital and kills themselves. Which they often do since a person is 100-264 times more likely to kill themselves within one week of being released from a mental hospital.
No uninsured person stays for longer than three days. That kills people, too. The doctors say they are good to go because they can’t pay to stay.
It’s written in the law: If someone was held at least 72 hours the state/hospital did all that they were required to do.
However, if an insured person was forced to leave by their insurance when the doctors disagreed with the course of action, the insurance company will be held responsible. So, you must make a good case to your claim manager that you are stable and there is absolutely no need for you to be hospitalized anymore.
I did not know this for the first two years of hospitalizations and instead felt helplessly at the mercy of my “doctor.” This would lead me to later lose my health, my teeth, my house, all valuable possessions, my dog, my cat, and my family.
On top of that, my business has been completely ruined and will go bankrupt soon. Website traffic to my eCommerce store fell during and after my hospitalizations. I had to lay off four employees and now operate the business alone.
One miracle happened: I got married.
This is just what I experienced during my first two hospitalizations. I have eight more hospitalization stories to tell.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.