Patient or Prisoner? My Hospital Experience

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I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in the summer of 2004 at the age of 19. All my life I had been the robust, bubbly, and friendly young Black lady, always hyper and active. I never thought I would be plagued with a mental illness until years later, when I found myself in a mental hospital bed, sedated with a cocktail of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, antidepressants, and benzodiazepines. It was hell for me. For most of the time I was sick, I was manic, in a state of extreme euphoria and sleep-deprived. To make things worse, some incidents occurred in the hospital that I will explain in this essay, but I felt I could not fight back because I had no energy to fight.

During the start of my bipolar experience, a doctor once told me that I was not like other people who can stay up late at night or eat whatever they want. He tried to explain in a simple way for me to understand, offering the analogy of Ferrari versus a Jeep. He said something to the effect of, “You don’t have the powerful parts of a Jeep to go off-road, but you are unique like a Ferrari.”

At that time, I ignored the advice I was given and tried to live a normal life like everyone else, but the decisions I made came with a price. I was in and out of hospitals, which was not a good experience. After being in the hospital more than six times and some self-reflection and prayer, I started listening to all the advice I had received from doctors, friends, and family and decided it was time to pay attention and focus on conscientiously caring for the “Ferrari” that I was. It was important for me to focus on myself. I felt it was time I start paying attention to my triggers, like the doctors said, in order to prevent a manic episode that could potentially land me in the hospital again.

I started to research what the triggers for bipolar were. I read on many topics such as food, weather, hormones, and light. Things like these were affecting my mania symptoms. I realized it after I started to record everything that happened to me. This included how I felt after each meal and what my meal was. I discovered that anytime I ate anything with sugar, I would get hyper and “on top” for a few hours, then later crash into a depressed state. I now try not to include sugar into my diet, but I’m still working on this piece. With hormones, I noticed that about one or two weeks prior to my menstrual cycle, I would exhibit mood shifts: I would get depressed, and there would be a dramatic dip in my mood. I came to realize that light would also affect my mood, in that getting too much light would give me insomnia, and not enough light would make me feel depressed. Other triggers are hard to track, but less sugar and daily exercise have helped me control them. I still have relapses, that’s the difficult part, but I have an honest relationship with a good doctor I found, and these practices keep me out of the hospital.

The reason for changing my life was my negative experiences at one such mental facility. The last time I decided to go for help was in 2006 during one of my relapses, which was like having a manic episode on steroids. Imagine driving drunk in a sports car on a cliff highway at full speed with no headlights. Sure, the adrenaline feels good, but eventually you will crash, and I did. I had racing thoughts, grandiose thoughts like I could do anything, and bad insomnia because of the mania. I eventually decided to go to a hospital after I experienced suicidal ideation and then attempted suicide. I thought this would be a place of refuge, and in essence it was, but I also ran into some hidden circumstances.

After being there from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. the next morning, I was told that there were no beds available, but they had found me a bed in a mental facility nearby. I was loaded into an ambulance and shipped to the other location. I later concluded that the reason they had run out of beds was because patients were being kept longer than necessary so the facilities could collect larger insurance payments. According to this article in The Washington Post and others, some hospitals have cheated their patients and haven’t always had their best interests at heart.

Upon my arrival at the facility, I was led to a small office where I was supposed to give information about my insurance. I couldn’t help but notice that the place was set up like a prison. There was a long row of rooms, and the doors opened to a balcony. I also noticed that all doors locked from the outside. I quickly came to the realization that I would be locked into one of these rooms and have no control over when I would come out. I knew I was in trouble, especially when I heard a man screaming and cursing from one of the rooms. It was even scarier when I was led to the small room next to where the screaming was coming from. The difference between this place and other hospitals was that the rooms were spaced out and you could decide to leave the door open. Also, after 24 hours there, you could come out and sit in a common room to watch television. I entered my room feeling cold inside, holding tight to the little red Bible my mom had given me. As I looked outside through the translucent window, I wondered when I would be freed.

In the morning, I was still manic and had not slept due to the screaming of the other patients. A female nurse unlocked my door from outside. I asked if I could use the bathroom and she led me to a medium-sized room with orange walls. As soon as I sat down on the toilet, to my horror, the door opened and a large man with a beard stood there watching me without saying a word. I could not run because I was too terrified to move, and there was no space for me to pass anyway. Then I heard someone coming and the huge man walked away and left me there with the door wide open.

The nurse had returned and led me back to my room. I asked her why I was there because it did not seem like I should be. She explained that the place was where people who are mentally ill and addicted to recreational drugs come for treatment. She said I was brought there because the other hospital was full, and I needed to be protected from harming myself.

This wasn’t the first time I’d felt like a prisoner instead of a patient. I would like to address my treatment concerning the hospital admission and release process. I recall the first time I told my parents to take me to the hospital because I thought I could receive the help I needed after feeling suicidal. My first evaluation was by the ER doctor, who told us that we would have to wait for a social worker to assess me, and after that, I would be given a bed in the psychiatric department.

The wait was excruciating, lasting from morning to 3 a.m. the next day, when someone finally came, evaluated me, and admitted me on involuntary status, which meant that a judge and a lawyer would later decide when I would be discharged from the hospital. The doctor would give his assessment of my condition, and these people would then decide my fate. After this was explained to us, my mother asked how that was possible, when her daughter had come to the hospital on her own accord. We were informed that it was because they believed I would harm myself if I were to be released just yet.

We were also told that after three days, I would appear before the judge, who would ask me questions regarding my status. The judge would then ask my social worker and the lawyer what they had observed about my condition. I kept thinking, “I am not a criminal, I came to the hospital willingly to seek help, and now I am being treated like a criminal. What kind of law is that?”

I wondered when and how my status had changed from voluntary to involuntary hold. I also wondered, since I would be medicated, how I could face a judge while I was under such heavy sedation. How much could I possibly comprehend about my situation? I don’t remember much about the hearing except my social worker asking me something about telling the judge whether I wanted to go home or stay in the hospital. Naturally, as I predicted, I was unable to answer their questions and the judge ruled that I should stay, which resulted in my case officially being confirmed as an involuntary commitment. (According to a newspaper investigation, hospitals in Washington state can change your status without notifying you.)

Now, if I wanted to be discharged, I had to go through a trial to defend my innocence. “This is crazy,” I thought. Not only was I disgruntled, but I had not showered in days, because showering was one of the phobias that I had developed while in my manic state. I felt worse while in the hospital because I was fearful of male patients. The fear made the mania worse. I thought, “Am I really safe? What if one of the other male patients opens the door while I’m in the shower? That will completely break me.”

As the team of defense attorneys lined up at my hospital room door, I was thinking, “This must be huge, why do I need four or five attorneys just to get out? What have I done?” In the end, it was my parents who fought with the hospital administration to get me out and I did not have to go to court. I also did not see any evidence that the defense lawyers had done anything for me.

I came out of this place after five days and later decided to change my life and pay attention to my triggers so I’d never have to return to these facilities. My goal was to focus on preventing relapses. I feel that what happened to me was wrong and should not happen to anyone. Mental illness is not a crime, and everyone should be treated with empathy because it is not anyone’s fault.

In my experience, one way these mental health facilities are different from prisons is that there is no separation of the sexes, whereas in prisons there is. I believe that cohabitation of men and women in mental facilities is not safe for women patients or the female nurses, social workers, and doctors who work there. For example, there was a frightening incident when I was in the hospital in which a female social worker was attacked by a male patient. I saw her eye was bruised and bleeding. Not only that, but a male patient there was hitting on me and making me feel really uncomfortable. Men with criminal backgrounds and/or drug users might become violent toward other patients and, if you are female, this is especially concerning. Sometimes there isn’t enough staff on hand to watch everyone. Plus, as I mentioned, the rooms and restrooms are unlocked for safety reasons. In my opinion, this has to change because it is not safe.  I believe if we can afford to separate men and women in prisons, we can try to separate them in mental hospital facilities as well.

Anyone could be traumatized by both types of negative experiences I had. On top of that, as a person of color, I had the additional burden of feeling the stigma that exists among minority communities, who have a history of being marginalized. For example, it is hard for us (people of color) to ask for help when there is a fear of being labeled “crazy” or “insane.” Data show that minorities are more prone to mental illness, given our history of adversity and socioeconomic backgrounds. I think we can come up with a good plan that destigmatizes mental illness for all races, including respectful and non-punitive treatment in in-patient settings.

Based on my experience, we can improve the mental health system’s practices by:

  1. Destigmatizing mental illness in communities of color by providing more conversation on the issue, especially in disadvantaged communities where mental health problems are most prevalent.
  2. Asking our state representatives to support changes in some laws such as making it mandatory to incorporate mental health conversations in the classroom as part of the school curriculum. I think maintaining good mental health starts at a young age, and at the core of that is learning to take care of ourselves.
  3. Helping to review and change state laws that encourage facilities to treat mental illness patients cruelly, such as failure to separate the sexes in psychiatric hospitals. As I stated earlier, I believe if we can afford to have separate jail blocks for the sake of inmate safety, we can do the same for patients in psychiatric wards.
  4. Ensuring the facilities review the amount of time the patient remains in the hospital. For example, if a patient is admitted voluntarily, they should be notified as to why their status is changed to involuntary and should have some say regarding their rights.

By telling my story, I hope my experience can galvanize others to take action. My reason for being so candid is to let others know the layers involved when getting admitted to psychiatric hospitals. It is not to say the hospitals are always a bad place to be when in crisis, but to shed light on what has happened or could happen and, more importantly, what needs to change.

 

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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.

48 COMMENTS

  1. What I like, Mwati, in your recounting of your experience is the way your tenderness comes across. You speak of the troubling nuances that are at the heart of any environmental disturbance. The nuances unsettle the healing of prior trauma almost more than spectacular random events. Most psychiatric hospitals seldom think to make their environs places of tenderness and solace, nor do they consider the way that what most people perceive of as “disturbing” is often subtle. Staff regard such disturbances as supposedly inconsequential and signs of just illness. They don’t seem to have a grasp of the word “creepy”. Its as if they think the patient lives in a wraparound world of creepiness and is thoroughly used to it. As if creepiness is their home from home. How can sincere tenderness ever be given to patients who have been dismissed as too haunted to receive it?

  2. Psychiatry and especially psych hospitals practice almost every technique used by cults and emotional manipulators.
    control the environment
    Isolate their marks
    Create a system of rewards and punishments (praise, forced hospitalization)
    Create a sense of fear, dependency (drug addiction) and powerlessness
    Have a charismatic leader (psychiatrists) to be obeyed at all times.
    No outsiders or anyone disagree can be listened to and instead need to be attacked.

    They gather information on you and use it against you.
    They intellectually bully people (every time they say someone lacks insight or use appeal to authority)
    They are dishonest.
    Any complaints are their mentally defective patients fault and need to be addressed by drugging them.
    They act like martyrs
    They neo not take responsibility for the harms their drugs and shock and stigmatizing do. In fact they blame all that on their patients and people who oppose psychiatry.
    They use your feelings, and insecurities against you.
    They guilt trip you.
    They cause you to question your own sanity.

    They are near perfect examples of how emotional manipulators and cults operate.

    https://aeon.co/essays/how-cult-leaders-brainwash-followers-for-total-control

    https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/emotional-manipulation#home-court-advantage

  3. Hi Mwati,

    They said I was the same as you but worse. I had initially been abused in hospital with over medication and after this I suffered from disabling drug side effects.

    I had to reduce the drugs to overcome the side effects and eventually over the years the drugs disappeared. I didn’t think they would – but they did!

  4. The answer to the title question is prisoner.

    Psychiatry is an adjunct of law-enforcement, charged with “gaslighting” ALL people who aren’t down with the drill. It is not a branch of medicine but a tool of social control, designed to make you believe your unhappiness with an oppressive system is due to some sort of inner failing.

    Seeking the sorts of reforms you mention is like asking for a better grade of handcuffs.

    Defund Psychiatry!

  5. Dear Mwati, thank you so much for sharing your story, and particularly for mentioning your terrifying experience with this large man who opened the bathroom’s door, the very problematic lack of separation of the sexes in many psychiatric hospitals and the fact that both the rooms and the bathrooms were unlocked.

    I live in Poland. In 2012 I was having mental health issues and I actually spent one night locked from the outside in a large room in a psychiatric hospital where I came to seek help. I was supposedly locked in this room “for observation purposes”. Two men were sleeping there. I was frightened and I did not sleep all night. Until today I simply can’t understand why the staff locked a woman in a room with two men!

    Finally I was involuntarily committed to the same psychiatric hospital. Again, I was quite frightened when I saw that heavily medicated women were sleeping in unlocked rooms. Strangely, the women’s bathroom was also unlocked, whereas the doors of the cubicles in the men’s bathroom could be locked from the inside (for this reason I actually often used the men’s bathroom). All the showers were unlocked. Fortunately, after some days I realized that the men on my ward did not seem dangerous, so I was able to use the showers.

    Just like you, I am unable to understand why the sexes are often not separated in mental hospitals. As you said, men can be actually dangerous to women on such wards or harass them. And it is very true that some of the men on locked wards do have a criminal background…

  6. Your article was a wonderful account and perspective.

    I have a very similar mindset for most people who experience mental health, especially those of us with more dramatic responses. My perspective: we are blessed with a form of sensitivity.

    Possibly if this perspective was more widespread, instead of the mainstream perspective that we all must be brought back to a more typical mental state through institutional treatment or powerful persistent pharma, we would have a better societal response.

    I like to analogize the “Ferraris” among us (as you say) to canaries. Canaries were often used to determine if the environmental conditions were safe for others. Maybe our extreme “mental health” reactions to certain situations and life rhythms should be heeded as a warning for all. Certain triggers, expectations and parts of modern life may be unhealthy for most. Let’s explore that and use our experience to change things for everyone. Let us sing our warning. Another analogy for another time is the Oracles of ancient stories…

    I am also an attorney and have grown passionate about the infringement of rights for those that are in a broken state not being able to assert their rights. Sometimes these otherwise kind physicians are asserting their form of healing without even trying to learn or follow patients wishes.

    Best to you. Keep singing your message.

    • Thank you, Mwati! I loved reading your perspective on your treatment in psychiatric facilities. I, too, have wondered at the lack of separation of the sexes/genders. There should, at least, be a choice. Many of us have experienced trauma that contributed to our “mental illness,” some of that trauma being sexual assault, harassment, and physical abuse along gendered lines. Being in an unsecured environment with other people being treated for behavioral instability and throwing in mixed genders doesn’t really make us look like the insane ones, does it?

      There is precisely zero tenderness or concern for creating a therapeutic environment in state hospitals. They are primarily concerned about being able to effectively control the population with minimal cost. That results in a prison, not a treatment facility. Another bit of mixing that needs to be reconsidered is the aspect of criminality and/or violence. A person self-admitting as depressed with suicidal ideation should not be on lock-down with involuntarily committed patients presenting with aggression toward others. Taking someone voluntarily seeking mental health treatment and putting them in an environment that any “normal” individual would consider dangerous also seems a dubious choice. Treatment should avoid introducing additional trauma.

      Twoebegone and Mwati, I love what you both have to say about self-care and that some of us are just a bit more sensitive, perhaps, to environmental, biological, social and – definitely – political insults to our system. I do not do a great job of watching for my triggers and getting the right amount of the real food, exercise, sunlight, exposure to positive energy via reading, art, social outlets that aren’t political, etc.

      I do think our reactions to our culture, our culture’s standard diet, media, conventional medicine should be a warning to others. One thing psychiatry has always been really bad at – and this just screams that they do not actually believe their own B.S. about the biochemical model of mental health – is assessing patients first AS MEDICAL PATIENTS. I have hyperparathyroidism and hypothyroidism and, newly, adrenal fatigue. All of the above result in “brain fog” and a host of other physical symptoms that would have me scoring real high on the PHQ 9, if I ever answered it honestly anymore, which I don’t.

      • [email protected], I agree with almost everything you are saying. However, you seem to be implying that people who are involuntarily committed are dangerous and “presenting with aggression toward others”. I want to make it very clear that people may be involuntarily committed simply because they are psychotic and deemed as a risk to themselves. This has happened to me – I have never been aggressive towards anyone.

        I actually asked a nurse why they wanted to put me on a locked ward if I am not aggressive, and he replied: “Oh, as an example you are speaking too loud.” Let me explain that I was not even angry – some people simply claim for some reason that I am speaking too loud. And I don’t think that this nurse really thought that I was being “aggressive” – he and others simply thought that a severely psychotic person should be on a locked ward.

        • I apologize if my statement seemed to indicate that I thought the involuntarily committed were universally violent as a group. I know that’s not the case. I’ve come real close to being on the wrong side of that situation myself.

          However, I have certainly seen a fair number of fellow patient/inmates displaying various inappropriate behaviors. Usually, the patients unable to stay out of your space aren’t there because they volunteered.

          I did have one other question: Are there psych wards, institutions, etc. that aren’t locked? We have crisis beds available around here for a weekend at most. But longer than that and pretty much everyone is on lockdown together and likely being heavily prescribed.

          I am very determined to never get involved with inpatient treatment for any reason I can avoid from here on out.

          • “Are there psych wards, institutions, etc. that aren’t locked?”

            Insurance rules require that psych patients be in the least restrictive setting possible for the least amount of time as necessary. This is an instance where having very good insurance will work against you. If you have Medicare, they’ll ask to use up your Lifetime Reserve Days, after which, you will find it harder to be admitted. It’s a scam and has little to do with your actual condition. I don’t believe there are inpatient psych units that are covered by insurance that are unlocked because it’s presumed by the insurance company that if you need inpatient care, you’re sufficiently ill as to not be able to walk out safely. However, for cash pay patients, it’s a different story. The Retreat at Sheppard Pratt was still an unlocked totally voluntary unit last I checked. I hope someone else will chime in here if this isn’t accurate.

          • [email protected], thank you for your reply, I really appreciate it. I guess that there are many people who indeed assume that only people who are dangerous to others can be involuntarily committed.

            I find this belief particularly hurtful. Of course there are people who behave in a very inappropriate and even aggressive way on locked wards, but other involuntarily committed people also suffer because of their behaviour. In my own case I did not become violent even when some other patients behaved in an aggressive and abusive way towards me, so the idea that people who have experienced psychosis are dangerous always makes me very sad.

            As long as many people believe that psychosis makes people aggressive and violent, it will be very difficult to fight e.g. against forcible drugging.

            In my country (Poland), there are psych wards which aren’t locked. I wished I had been admitted to one of these wards when I was psychotic, but unfortunately I did not have a choice in the matter.

        • “Let me explain that I was not even angry – some people simply claim for some reason that I am speaking too loud”

          Joanna, I sympathize. I have had mhp suggest that my loud speech is evidence of bipolar or emotional upset and suggest I calm down. But have you had your hearing tested? I have moderate hearing loss and have developed a strategy of asking people to speak up when they tell me I’m speaking too loudly. You *may* be speaking loudly in an attempt to raise the volume so you can hear better. At least, it seems that was what was happening with me and I wondered if that might help you.

          • kindredspirit, what you say is quite interesting. I have actually sometimes thought that some mild hearing loss might have contributed to my episode of “voice hearing” in 2012.

            I may be indeed speaking a bit louder than many other people, and undiagnosed mild hearing loss may be one of the explanations. Interestingly, however, the situations where people claimed that I was “speaking too loud” or even asked me to lower my voice have been infrequent – and these people usually had power over me.

            This was actually the most frequent during my stay at the psychiatric hospital and was humiliating – I was fully aware that some of the staff told me to lower my voice and expected me to obey because I was a psychiatric patient on a locked ward.

            The first time I have ever been asked to lower my voice was when I was a schoolgirl, and the person who asked me to lower my voice was a male teacher. I don’t really think that I had hearing loss already at that time, and it is striking that no female teacher ever told me that I should speak less loudly.

            I actually think that in some cultures many people are not used to women who speak in a confident way. Interestingly, outside my own country I have been rebuked for “speaking too loud” only by two much older white women from the UK.

            My parents have never expected me to be a “sweet”, quiet, self-effacing girl, and I guess that this is why my way of speaking irritates some people. And many people with power – like the psychiatric staff or the male teacher – simply enjoy using their power to make others feel small.

  7. “, instead of the mainstream perspective that we all must be brought back to a more typical mental state through institutional treatment or powerful persistent pharma, we would have a better societal response. ”

    Does the industry succeed in “returning folks to a “typical state”? Is that typical state the one shrinks and their perverse employ possess? The “health industry” is basically full of very effed up people, very effed up. And full of people who have no sense of life. Thing is, it often takes time and many will leave the industry and have guilt or remorse. But that is also a lengthy process.

  8. As detaining someone against their will on the basis of actual or perceived disability qualifies as arbitrary detention under international law, as even voluntary patients can find the door locks behind them not allowing them to leave, and as psychiatry has not actually proven that most “mental illnesses” really are brain diseases, the answer is (b), prisoner.

    Final answer.

  9. You titled this article: patient or prisoner? I can not help but think the answer is prisoner. My first job out of college was as a corrections officer (prison guard.) We treated “stone cold killers” better than you were treated. Since that time, I have been a prisoner in two regular hospitals, and one psych hospital. However,
    as awful as they were, your experience was much tragically worse. And, sadly, now, in very few hospitals, especially psych hospitals, but more and more the “regular” hospitals, a patient is not treated as a patient but as a prisoner. Oldhead wants to “defund and abolish psychiatry.” I would like to agree, but, I wonder is it really possible or a pipedream. But, I do think psychiatry and their cronies are very probably becoming more and more the most dangerous segment of society. I do wish you well and thank you for your article. Your smile says it all. You have great promise, more than you might be able to envision at this instant. Thank you.

    • [A brief strategic and motivational interjection for Rebel et al.]

      Oldhead wants to “defund and abolish psychiatry.” I would like to agree, but, I wonder is it really possible or a pipedream.

      As you know I am one of many people (including yourself) who agree — although you phrase this oddly, i.e. your imply you are basing whether you desire to abolish psychiatry on the likelihood of accomplishing that. But what you desire is what you desire — even if you see no immediate prospect of getting what you want. What I’m saying is (this also applies to another ongoing conversation/debate with which you are familiar):

      No successful, non-sellout movement ever bases its strategy or aspirations on the prospect of short-range success. First you need to define what you collectively believe and what you want. This is objective and immutable. There is no room when defining your objectives for equivocation based on what seems “practical” — that’s what “advocacy” groups do, not abolitionists. (And, again, “abolition” does not necessarily refer to some sweeping decree from the Emperor, there are subtleties involved.)

      Once you’ve determined your real goals, not your “practical” ones, the next step is strategizing how to achieve them. That’s the point where subjectivity and tactical creativity come in based on the concrete circumstances of the moment.

      Btw I think people have to get over needing to see victory in their lifetimes; it’s possible for many of us, but the important thing to know is that we’re pushing in the right direction, even if it’s uphill.

      Humanity is capable of near-infinite things once there is a collective will which refuses to be stomped down and restrained by the terrorism of the system. I’m personally optimistic, both on general principles, and for objective reasons. Though it does seem as though there is a current of timidity and cynicism circulating, which I encourage people to recognize and resist, it’s not that hard.

      • Oldhead, I know that abolishing of psychiatry may take more than a lifetime or even a few lifetimes. Perhaps, our first goal might be to discredit psychiatry to such a state that it is relegated to the dustbins of history books, like feeling lumps on the head to determine illness or bleeding out people to cure them of illness. I don’t know if these are even good examples. And I might have the wrong idea or I might be misunderstanding everything. As you well know, one of the effects of the brain being on these drugs for years and years is that thoughts and memories get all tied up. I know the ultimate goal is abolishment and I am willing to take the uphill battle, but, some days I have better ideas or answers than others. Thank you.

        • Well, we all have good and bad days but I think you totally get it, don’t underestimate yourself. Extensive public education is needed to set the preconditions for a public groundswell against psychiatry which, when it finally happens, might seem to have come out of the blue, but you’ll know better. So right now “action” means education, much of which is done via words. So the demand for “action not words” is not always as bold and radical as it may seem. Empty words are the problem, not words period.

          HOWEVER we can’t educate the public when we’re confused ourselves, with some calling for abolition and others for nicer shrinks. That’s why it’s important to define what psychiatry is, and what anti-psychiatry is. We can’t pretend there are “no divisions.”

          It’s also important to understand that “activism” is sometimes tedious and mundane, i.e. work. It rarely involves marching through the streets and shouting at empty buildings (because many demonstrations take place on weekends). Currently activism involves adopting a united “platform,” analysis and demands, and much of the initial work towards accomplishing this has already been done — we’re just waiting for people to get on board.

          As I mentioned, abolition doesn’t necessarily mean outlawing psychiatry; it could include a combination of “small cuts,” which start with public sentiment and sometimes result in reformist legal measures. (The biggest cut of all would be the abolition of force, but that won’t happen without a huge campaign conducted in coalition with many other forces, including the prisoners movement.)

          Meanwhile we must continue exposing the underlying fraud and deception at the core of psychiatry, and chopping away at the underpinnings of the psychiatric mentality, which has been unconsciously internalized by many who consider themselves “progressive.”

          Any day I think I’ve fulfilled a tiny chunk of accomplishing the above is a good one, usually.

          • Oldhead, You are very intelligent. Kindred Spirit is very intelligence. What I read in both of your posts is that there is a wide range of opinions as to how psychiatry should be abolished and what it should look like after it’s abolished. Another odd possibility is that, although we may work very hard with good intentions and wise ideas, psychiatry may just end up abolishing itself. Most of us consider psychiatry somewhat of a criminal enterprise. And, after having worked in corrections, one glaring attribute of a convict or criminal is they just can’t stop themselves from engaging in criminal behavior. Just wait a while, these people will show their face. This doesn’t mean we should stop doing what we are doing. Exposing their criminality is the best medicine against them. Thank you.

          • What’s most significant is that although KS & I appear to be arguing we are largely in synch on key things, such as psychiatry needing to go — even though we get to that conclusion via different routes and from different perspectives.

            Your own points are hard to respond to in sound bites, to your credit, but it’s a drag when I’m tired. Oh well, poor me:

            Another odd possibility is that, although we may work very hard with good intentions and wise ideas, psychiatry may just end up abolishing itself

            Yes, the entire system may collapse under its own weight, but if it falls on us that will be nothing to celebrate. And the timing is impossible to predict. A controlled demolition might be best. (Metaphors, guys.) It would be a mistake to assume that just because the conditions are ripe the system will just go away. This is the meaning of the Frederick Douglas quote (summarized): “Power cedes nothing without a demand.”

            …one glaring attribute of a convict or criminal is they just can’t stop themselves from engaging in criminal behavior. Just wait a while, these people will show their face.

            Sounds like you’re talking about “overreach,” which happens when the forces in power get arrogant and overconfident, and start alienating some of their support. It’s always something to prepare for and to take advantage of when it happens. (I should also point out that not all convicts are criminals.)

            This doesn’t mean we should stop doing what we are doing.

            Right!

      • Your fatal flaw here, Oldhead, is in the presumption that you know what other people’s priorities should be. Abolishing psychiatry is a worthy goal but it isn’t the only goal because the need for help doesn’t magically go away with psychiatry gone. Making sure the help people receive when they need it is effective and not more harmful is another goal that some of us have. The idea that natural forms of mutual assistance will just spring up out of nowhere if there isn’t a capitalist government controlling us is ludicrous. Pure and simple. And the idea that capitalism is the mother of all oppressions and when it’s gone so too will be the harm from incest and rape and alcohol/drugs abuse and domestic violence, racism, xenophobia or other power struggles is pure fantasy. And I’m not even for a second going to provide cover for those who do harm by suggesting that they wouldn’t be doing that harm in a more equitable culture because these harms are as old and ubiquitous as humanity itself.

        There DO need to be other forms of help available for those healing from psychological injuries. I think peer work within psychiatry is as nuts as it gets but I am completely in support of survivors or those with lived experience creating and staffing respites and warm lines, crisis response and so on.

        • Your fatal flaw here, Oldhead, is in the presumption that you know what other people’s priorities should be. Abolishing psychiatry is a worthy goal but it isn’t the only goal because the need for help doesn’t magically go away with psychiatry gone.

          There are infinite worthwhile goals in the world. My specific goal at this point in time is abolishing psychiatry, not helping people I don’t know with their personal issues. That’s not to say the latter isn’t a worthwhile thing to pursue. But there’s no real connection between the two. The belief that there is comes from accepting the premise that the purpose of psychiatry is to help people, and that abolishing psychiatry thus requires an “alternative” way to help people. But we should be able to reject that reasoning without much difficulty.

          The people I personally and primarily want to “help” are those whose lives will be even further upended by psychiatry if it is allowed to continue with business as usual. Which is all of us in some way, really. But there should be no illusions that ending psychiatry will do more than bring us back to square one; it won’t mean that systemic oppression has ended or doesn’t need to be confronted.

          The purpose of any movement to abolish psychiatry is based on it being a tool of repression, period. The main help those deepest within its clutches need is to be extricated. If individual psychiatric abolitionists choose to also be involved in “support communities” etc. there’s no contradiction, especially if these are controlled by those who participate. However the two functions shouldn’t be conflated, or one considered a prerequisite for the other, even if there is some occasional overlap.

  10. Thank you for sharing your harrowing experience, my adrenaline was pumping just from reading it. I love your clarity and conviction, very inspiring!

    I was struck by the title of your book, Strengthening Your Identity While the Shadow Is in Front of You. I think that’s a really clever and powerful way to heal, grow, and gain inner strength. We often don’t have much a choice!

  11. Someone questioned if all “psych wards” are locked? The “psych hospital” of which I was interned was “locked” and each ward was locked. I think your diagnosis and possible violent tendencies determined which particular ward you were assigned and all that etc. I have never known a “psych ward” or “hospital” to not be locked. Although, many do have lobbies that are more open. Sometimes, that is because, there are various parts to a “psych hospital” including many outpatient facilities from “day treatment ” stays to just plain outpatient visits with psychiatrists, etc. and places for support groups and group therapies, etc. I did the “day treatment” for several weeks some years ago. You would go for the day and go home at night; but you had to released like a you were a regular inpatient. However, there was one thing, when I was an actual inpatient; I was not allowed to speak with my mother nor did they tell the truth about my stay. Finally, though they released me. It probably had to do with my Medicare insurance. They probably stopped authorizing payments. Thank you.

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