I was perusing youtube, as I do sometimes, and stumbled across a video in which a psychiatrist talks about his approach to involuntary hospitalization, and makes some generalities about how the mental health profession approaches involuntary hospitalization as a whole.
To put it briefly, he claims that involuntary hospitalization is only used in extremely dire cases of suicidality. Cases where the patient has immediate risk, and it looks probable that things will change in a week so it’s really a matter of getting them through that week.
And I have FEELINGS about this. Strong enough FEELINGS that I want to write about it. Now, I am going to go ahead and assume that everything this psychiatrist said is totally true for him – but it is very much NOT true for the mental health profession as a whole.
So I’m going to go ahead and talk some about my history. I have been involuntarily hospitalized three times in my life. One of those times was honestly justified, the other two were not. None of them actually helped me.
The first time was when I was in middle school, and I didn’t yet have any real concept of needing to hide suicidal thoughts if someone directly asked about them. I was in a special ed program due to being “emotionally disturbed” and one day my special ed teacher sat me and another student down to just have a casual conversation with us. At some point in the conversation, the teacher oh-so-casually asked us if we had ever thought about suicide. We both answered in the affirmative. Then she asked if we’d ever thought about how we would accomplish it. The other student looked a little surprised at the idea and said that she had not. I, being entirely too naive, said that I had and happily launched into an extensive explanation of all the ways I had considered of how to unalive myself and the reasons I had rejected each possibility or kept it as an actual possibility.
Now, I can certainly see this freaking the teacher out. It’s probably alarming to hear! I could definitely see recommending therapy or something in response. To be clear – I didn’t have anything resembling a plan or any kind of intent to act on it, just thoughts that, while alarming, were not immediately dangerous. In any case, maybe a day later I found myself in a hospital for “suicidal thoughts.”
The second time was in high school. This time I really had tried to unalive myself, so it’s hardly surprising that after my ER visit I was whisked off to a psychiatric hospital for a while there.
The third time was in college. I was depressed and self-injuring (which was nothing new, I had been doing that since elementary school). That was apparently enough to wind up locked away yet again
I consider myself extremely fortunate that none of my experiences caused me significant trauma. There are many people out there who are not so lucky. I still had to deal with doctors and nurses who openly did not care about the patients, some who even had open contempt for their patients, hearing care providers loudly mock me from just past an open door, plus the overall dehumanization that seems to be part and parcel of psychiatric hospitals.
While I can see how one of my hospital stays was justified, absolutely none of them actually did me any good. They taught me better ways to hide my pain, the importance of not actually telling people when I’m not ok, and that there are limits to how much I can trust the people who are supposed to be taking care of me.
I am in therapy now. I am genuinely happy with my therapy and I like my therapist. But I will never, ever tell him if I’m suicidal or pondering being unalive. I have actually thought about how nice it would be if I could ask for help when I’m feeling like that, but the reality is that it’s not worth the risk. Because I will NEVER go to a psychiatric hospital ever again. I am so serious about that. Never ever ever.
When a mental health professional says that they only consider involuntary hospitalization in the most extreme of circumstances, the primary thing I hear is that they consider involuntary hospitalization sometimes. They consider it a valid tool and they will sometimes use it. Which means that when it comes to suicidality, I will continue to go it alone. This is even more true now that I am transitioning, as I would definitely not call psychiatric hospitals to be safe for trans people.
The comments section of the video has quite a few people with experiences similar to or worse than mine. I am clearly not alone here. And I’m saddened to see that the youtuber did not appear to respond to any of those comments. This is clearly a serious issue that mental health professionals NEED to address.
I do want to add a final note that while all of this is my truth and extremely serious for me, I do know that there are also people out there who have benefitted from psychiatric hospitalization. Their truth is theirs, and I don’t intend to invalidate it. Nor am I trying to influence anyone on what is right for them. Only to say what is right for me, and to point out that regardless of what is right for any given individual, there is clearly a systemic problem going on and it needs to be addressed.