Mental Illness and Authority: Part II

I started the post below as a response to a very kind email from “Mary” but it eventually got so long and involved that it became more of an essay than a letter. I hope she will understand why I put it here, rather than sending it to her alone!

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First, here is her letter to me:


Thanks, Pam.   I learned from your very well written account, “On Psychiatry and Authority.”  I felt like I was in the room with you, it was so descriptive.  I recently had a call from a man who is bipolar.  He said while off his meds, he was in an encounter with his girlfriend and was arrested on domestic violence or disturbing the peace charges.  He told the officers he was a psychiatric patient, but of course, jails have become America’s answer to mental illness.  The police threw him into a cell after booking him, then released a police dog on him in the isolated cell rather than simply locking the door.  He said the dog ravaged his leg, exposing bone, and he was taken to the hospital.  There may have been a time when only black mental patients were treated this badly, but the caller was white.  I wrote about more murders and abuses against mentally challenged people in my blog – Letter to Mary Neal’s Terrorists – http://freespeakblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/letter-to-mary-neals-terrorists.html

I am still undergoing much censorship, Pam, likely because my advocacy to decriminalize mental illness is a threat to the private prison industry.  Over half the inmates in America are mentally ill.  If they are released to community care under AOT programs or treated as hospital inpatients rather than prison inmates, depending on their offenses and functionality, it would not be more expensive for taxpayers, but it would negatively impact prison profits.

As I read about your brutal treatment in the hospital, I was so sad.  Here I am advocating hospitals rather than prison, and you were treated that way by psychiatric professionals.  The only way I can continue after learning what happened to you and others who were in abusive hospital environments is by thinking about people like my caller who was not only tossed in an isolated cell naked, but a vicious dog was sent in to attack him after that.  I also think about my brother Larry who was murdered under secret arrest because police were fed up with being his psychiatric caretakers.  Although hospital care is only marginally more humane than incarceration in some cases, there are fewer permanent physical injuries and murders among hospitalized patients.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Mary Neal
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
http://www.Care2.com/c2c/group/AIMI

And my response:

Thanks so much for your email and sympathetic understanding of the traumatic aspects of my so-called “treatment” at Muddlesax Hospital last April. Such treatment was, at other hospitals especially in the 80s and 90s and even in the early 2000s, so much worse — I mean in terms of real physical violence perpetrated against me while being literally, bodily, forced into restraints — that I was almost reluctant to write about such a relatively mild incident. But the humiliation of having to put myself into restraints was almost more unbearable than the, in some sense, honorable freedom to resist! It just riles me completely…How dare they put me in such an untenable position? Then again, I suspect it was intentional.

Nevertheless, I am very much aware that in Connecticut hospitals way too many people have died while they were in restraints, and this in the not so distant past. In fact it was investigative reporters at the Hartford Courant back in the late 90s —and their article entitled, I believe, Deadly Restraint — that served as a national catalyst in getting hospitals to stop the wholesale use of seclusion and restraints. At the very least it started a national discussion about the use and abuses of force in psychiatric hospitals and (I think) juvenile detention centers. (God forbid anyone at all should care about jails and prisons however…Those people obviously deserve it, they are criminals after all… Right?)

But even though most hospitals in Connecticut claim to have reduced the use of force to the most extreme cases, (they will force medication though, through the use of forced medication hearings) I do not believe that can be so. Because I cannot believe that I alone “deserve” seclusion and restraints and yet I have been subjected to such abuse time and time again. Until 2005, I was put in S + R at least once almost every time I was hospitalized and quite often multiple times, for many long hours. After 2005, I would say the incidence was reduced by about half. That means that half the hospitals still indulged in this abuse, one of them, as I wrote earlier in this blog, employing them almost every day for a week and a half!

Of the hospitals that did not physically restrain me,  most were still abusive, but more subtle about it…For instance, they would put me on Constant Observation, but then tell the “sitter” not to speak to me. Or they would institute the common but for all the commonness of it, still abusive policy, of making the one-to-one person being ignored sleep with her hands and head completely uncovered. Now, all hospitals are freezing these days, I do not know why. But it was well known that you had to bring a sweater or sweatshirt everywhere, because the air-conditioning would be out of control and everyone was too cold no matter the season. So to have to keep your hands exposed all night was cruel. But the reason that they insisted on it clearly had nothing to do with it being “safer” for the patient. No, it was punishment. That is ALL. The whole purpose of one-o-one in those places was punishment. You could not talk to the sitter, one, and the sitter had to follow you even into the toilet. And all the while deliberately ignoring you if you spoke to her..So what was the point, if they kept the close eye on you they were supposed to, they knew you could not hurt yourself.  So the point was simply to humiliate and torment the patient so they would beg for “freedom” and pretend or at least mouth the words “I am safe.” Those magic three words were all that were needed, but you had to say them so that the nurses could hear.

For many years, I believed that this was a hospitals-wide, state-wide, business as usual policy, the no-talking, hands exposed rules, and that it was reasonable. Until I went to Natchaug and Sharon told me that Natchaug didn’t believe that one-to-one should be “punitive” in any way. And by the way, she said that word, “punitive,” not I. Nevertheless, at Natchaug, no one made me sleep with my hands outside of the covers and the sitters freely spoke with me. In fact, once they understood that I needed them not to share their own lives with me, because then I would feel the need to take care of them, something that would not be helpful to me, they wanted to find out specifically how they could help me.

But back to the use of restraints. I am only 5’ 3” and from 2005 until 2010, I weighed between 92-105 pounds. Surely I could not have been that great a threat to anyone. In fact, at one hospital, one I will not name, fearing them so much I wouldn’t put it past them to take revenge, they had a somewhat better policy of dealing with agitated patients.  At a Code Orange, staff members from every unit converged on the “victim” (sorry but that is how it felt) and  “held” her until she could calm herself. Now, this “holding” often consisted of pinning her bodily to the floor, which itself could be anxiety provoking. And at least once, in my case, a male nurse who openly detested me, tried to pin me to the floor on my stomach, which I had read was something to be avoided as people had died when held down prone, as opposed to supine (on the back)! But in general the technique worked, if the victim was held down long enough. Basically, if he fought, there were enough people holding him down to allow him to exhaust himself without doing anyone harm. And then, when exhausted, he would calm down and either take PRN medication, or assure the head nurse that he would be okay now. It worked, though, no matter what I thought about it, or of the people doing it. And it did avoid all use of restraints, though of course by itself it is already a form of restraining people, it just avoided the use of mechanical restraints. That though, still makes a big difference…

Forgive me if I segue again into another digressive subject for a minute or two, but the subject of 2010, which recently turned the decade corner into 2011, brought to mind the fact that having taken Zyprexa (most of the time) since then has caused me to gain a fair amount of weight, another subject that is near if not dear to my heart. Oh, the damage that psychoactive drugs do! How dare doctors blame us, the people with schizophrenia, for it? Don’t we have enough trouble without being blamed for the side effects of the very medications that they prescribe? Do you know that for decades, and sanctified as Truth in psychiatry textbooks, they insisted, without any reason and making less sense, that schizophrenia itself was the cause for so many of us to be obese? That was utter nonsense to my way of thinking. Every single memoir about sz that I ever read revealed that the author had been thin UNTIL she or he was treated with antipsychotic drugs, and then, blammo, food becomes the enemy. Yet the shrinks actually insisted, against all the evidence, that it was the illness and not the drugs that was behind the huge % of patients exhibiting this “signal obesity”.

Well, all along I thought they were full of shit, pardon my french. No, I didn’t just think it, I KNEW it. I had not a doubt in the world. And you know what? I was right. The latest research has borne out precisely what I’d asserted all along: when investigators looked at a population of people with schizophrenia that for one reason or another had never taken antipsychotic drugs, they discovered that this neuroleptic-naive group was thinner than average, and that it was in fact the drugs that had made us obese, sometimes massively so, rather than schizophrenia. And it just infuriates me, not just the obesity, it is not just the weight gain the drugs cause, it is the fact that we patients have been blamed for something that they, the doctors and nurses and their GD drugs, inflicted on us. Maybe it is especially difficult for me, with my history of anorexia and my intense wish simply to disappear, but what about those who will die from drug-induced heart disease or diabetes?

I know, I know, Mary, you may be on the other side of this argument, or it might appear that way, because you want more treatment to be available, not less. I do in general agree with you: Prisons are overflowing with the mentally ill, who should never have been there in the first place. In fact, I think the prisons are overflowing with an awful lot of people, especially those of a certain darker-hued skin, for little reason more than the very color of their skin! I mean, tell me why Robert Downey Jr and Lindsey Lohan, aside from their celebrity status, get caught again and again with drugs and cocaine etc, yet are sent off to posh rehab centers, with a smile. But should you happen to be an unknown, POOR, god forbid mentally ill person of a darker hued skin (and let’s face it, a light/white South African immigrant would not be treated the same way as a dark-skinned someone with Nigerian roots!) if you are that person and you offend in some way just 3 times, well, then, you are sent away to one of California’s really “posh” ha ha ha penitentiaries FOR LIFE! Things like that just make my blood BOIL. And don’t get me started on the insanity of our drug laws!

But forgive me for going so far astray. It is just that the whole subject of prisons and what we do to people in them is a really sore point with me, and not just how we treat the mentally ill there, though that is about as atrocious as it can get…Need I even mention the “extra beds” in unused supermax prisons being used to house “unruly” MI prisoners? It makes me want to scream and throw up at the same time.

Well, no doubt this “essay” is both incoherent, in the sense that it doesn’t cohere properly, and just plain incoherent! I admit to a bit of laziness, as it is late at night, and i need to take my MEDS and go to bed. So, at the moment, I am not going to polish and fix it. I am going to pretend that since this is “only” a blog I can get away with shoddy ill-organized writing, and call it a night. Which is what I am doing forthwith…Good night, and thanks, Mary N, thanks a million again.

PW

3 thoughts on “Mental Illness and Authority: Part II”

  1. Pam ,
    Wow
    This is such a powerful essay and so very far from incoherent…. long before you used the word ‘punitive’ your description had brought exactly that visually so strongly to mind.
    Institutional ‘ Permission/ Or Order… you had better follow the rules,or else ‘! was given to act that way to those in fact just ‘sad minions’ (probably full of low self esteem themseves) by authority’ a lash by any other name to beat someone into submission and dehumanise…..and deny any possible connection.Work ‘Us’ against ‘them’.

    Sorry this is itself very incoherent and un-thought through but I must post now. Far from activist reader and admirer UK . Many other thoughts triggered here. Thank you
    Best wishes Chris

  2. Sorry you keep running into these archaic policies Pam. I remember when I worked locked psych in the 70’s and 80’s that we would wrap children up like a burrito in the quit room mat (like a wrestling mat) and then sit on it while urging them to calm down. The theory was it would prevent self injury. I do remember believing that it was better than leaving them alone in to break their hands on the plexiglass window or the door. It was brutal at times and affected the staff members and the other patients . We were enforcing hospital policy as interpreted by the doctor/head nurse. Where I worked it was much less common to have to put hands on adult patients as they usually knew it was a loosing battle.

    Here in Minnesota they closed all but one state RTC. It is a good thing as far as I can tell…
    (Pam search rustedstevie to see my Neil Young covers on Youtube)

    Steve

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