Many people don’t understand how mental illness, in and of itself, can be traumatic. Everything from the emotions, physical sensations, and even treatment – locked in a ward or a hospital, often against our will – is a recipe for trauma. While every person with mental illness is different, most people with serious and persistent mental illness describe being traumatized in addition to the impact of the illness itself.
In this episode of A Bipolar, a Schizophrenic, and a Podcast, our hosts discuss their own traumas as they relate to living with – and getting help for – mental illness. They both recall their time receiving treatment in the psychiatric hospital and Michelle tells the story of her encounter with a police officer that ended less than ideally. more
“They’re playing with one of the big existential issues for all of us, which is death,” says Dr. Stuart Beck of Mass General.
On a recent Monday, clinical staff at Massachusetts General Hospital had gathered with a patient as she prepared for discharge from the psychiatric ward. After nearly everyone had said their goodbyes, the patient turned to Dr. Stuart Beck, the soft-spoken psychiatrist who runs the ward.
“Hey you, Dr. Beck,” the patient blurted out. “You got anything to tell me?”
The Boston hospital has 1,011 beds, only 24 of which are reserved for the psychiatric ward. Vacancies on the ward are rapidly filled, and Beck and his staff are always busy, moving from one bed to the next as they make decisions about medications, treatment plans and whether it’s safe enough to let a particular patient go. Still, Beck tries to build a connection with his patients and uncover the deeper issues that brought them to his ward. more
The silent shame of having a mental illness in a Chinese family.
“Don’t you dare go back to that doctor,” my mother growled into the phone. “He’ll put ‘bipolar’ on your record and then you’ll never be able to get a job.”
I nodded into the receiver. “Okay.”
I never went back. Seven years later, I woke up in a psych ward.
Growing up, I thought I was emotionally healthy. I had a large Chinese family on my mother’s side (my father is white). We were a lively, loud, tight-knit group consisting of around 20 blood relatives and 3 million non-blood relatives. Everyone knew each other’s business. Distant family members inquired about school, commented on my weight, and asked if I had a boyfriend. The only time it was “quiet” was when the Mahjong table came out and the only noise you’d hear was the click-clacking of tiles. more
An 11-year-old boy was locked in a mental hospital for a week after his mother took him there voluntarily seeking help. He’s not alone.
A note to viewers & readers
The accounts of people shared here should not dissuade individuals from getting mental health help. But, too often, experts say that for-profit, private facilities do not choose the “least restrictive appropriate setting” for therapy, as mandated by current law, and instead default to locking up people in more expensive inpatient care when it’s not necessary.
You can get help without getting locked up. Do your homework, and know your rights.
Imagine walking into a mental health facility voluntarily because you want help.
Then, the door locks behind you. You’re told you can’t leave. Stripped of your clothes, given a new bed. You have no idea when you’ll see your family again.
Now imagine you are 11 years old. more
Joy in a Mental Hospital
My experience after checking myself in at a mental hospital was almost entirely positive. I had been diagnosed as bipolar at 25. At the time, I was fresh out of a top-10 law school, but I had managed to endanger my career through a series of poor decisions.
After a brief round of treatment with lithium, Prozac, and Tegretol, I decided that sanity was overrated. I quit all my meds and slipped into a five-year period of uncontrolled mania. It was, in all honesty, the happiest time of my life.
I was completely manic (and happy) for five years of marriages, near marriages, and one-night stands. I slept one to two hours a day and salsa danced until five in the morning. more
Girl, Interrupted – Ice cream parlor scene
STOCKTON — Marsha Posner Williams is a successful television producer, winner of two Emmy and three Golden Globe awards for “The Golden Girls.”
Yael Deynes, who survived a suicide attempt, physical and mental abuse by his biological mother in his native Puerto Rico and controlling, mental abuse at the hands of his former gay lover, has made an award-winning short film and is seeking funding for his first feature-length motion picture.
The two will share their stories of success and offer encouragement Friday when they speak on “Curing The Stigma” from 1:30-3 p.m. in the Tillie Lewis Theatre as San Joaquin Delta College concludes its observance of Mental Health Awareness Week. more
The last time I saw my old self, I was 27 years old and living in Boston. I was doing well in graduate school, had a tight circle of friends and was a prolific creative writer. Married to my high-school sweetheart, I had just had my first child. Back then, my best times were twirling my baby girl under the gloaming sky on a Florida beach and flopping on the bed with my husband — feet propped against the wall — and talking. The future seemed wide open.
I don’t think there is a particular point at which I can say I became depressed. My illness was insidious, gradual and inexorable. I had a preview of depressionin high school, when I spent a couple of years wearing all black, rimming my eyes in kohl and sliding against the walls in the hallways, hoping that no one would notice me. But back then I didn’t think it was a very serious problem. more
6:05 am: You lie awake in your tiny bed, underneath the salmon covers, your neck sore from sleeping on one pillow (you asked for another but you’ll need a doctor’s order to have more than one.) Your sleep medicine has worn off and you are now once again a prisoner to your insomnia.
All there is to do now is listen to your roommate snore and mutter to herself in her sleep and the sounds of the nurses talking and phones ringing at the nurses station. You remember a Seroquel-induced nightmare you had previously in the night in which you were trapped in a house that was filling with water, drowning and gasping for air. You make a mental note to mention the dream to your doctor later on.
7:00 am: Morning checks. A tech bangs on your door just as you have started to drift off into a sweet sleep again and informs you that you must be up for breakfast in thirty minutes. You incoherently moan something that resembles an “OK,” roll over and close your eyes again.
7:10 am: Brush your teeth, brush your hair, make your bed, and put on a sweatshirt. more
Stephen Seager knows he could lose his job, but he doesn’t care. He didn’t ask his employer’s permission to write Behind the Gates of Gomorrah, an account of the rampant and unchecked violence that Seager says he’s both witnessed and experienced as a psychiatrist at California’s Napa State Hospital. The forensic facility, the second-largest in the country, houses “the school shooters, the James Holmeses, and Jeffrey Dahmers of the world,” as Seager puts it. Nor did he warn the hospital that the book is being published this week.
“I want their honest response,” he told me over the phone from his home in northwest California. “We’re getting the shit kicked out of us and no one cares. Not just the staff, the patients. And they can’t leave at the end of the day—they have to live there. If this stops one of them from getting beaten, it was all worth it.”
In his book, Seager describes his first year at one of Napa State Hospital’s high-risk units: a fenced-in “secure treatment area,” reminiscent on the outside of a “sprawling prisoner-of-war-camp in a World War II movie,” and on the inside of the fictional Baltimore State hospital depicted in The Silence of the Lambs. more
What happens after a defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity? Often the answer is involuntary confinement in a state psychiatric hospital — with no end in sight.
Despite Ann’s determination to betray no emotion, a drop of sweat rolled down her temple as a guard painstakingly examined her lunch items. That Sunday morning, she had taken two buses, two trains and a shuttle to get from her home to the New York state psychiatric facility where her son is confined. Frustrated, she pushed back a little, but just a little, when the guard took away two sealed bottles of fruit-flavored water, a special treat that Ann had made an extra stop to buy. She watched as he held them up to examine them and concluded that they must contain caffeine — which is not allowed — because they did not read, “Does not contain caffeine.” more