Bipolar blogger Natasha Tracy offers exclusive insight into the world of bipolar disorder.See all posts »
Hospitalization Used as Punishment
In the latest season of Homeland, Carrie, the main character who has bipolar disorder, is admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital without her consent. Hospitalization is treated as punishment for her not doing as she was told. And she certainly acts like it’s the worst possible thing to ever happen to her and acts very much like she’s being taken to a torture chamber.
This is not positive press for mental hospitals. But this is a pretty traditional (and media-perpetuated) view of what mental hospitals are like. In fact, I held these types of beliefs myself. I said, and absolutely meant, that I would rather die than be admitted to a psychiatric ward. I considered those places to be hell on earth. And I thought that without any real information on what it was like to be hospitalized. So if you threatened me with hospitalization, you better bet I would do whatever you said to avoid it.
Threats, Punishments and Hospitals
And many patients view mental hospitals the same way. They see suggestions of hospitalization as “threats” and they see the idea of hospitalization as “punishment” for “doing something wrong.” And this is too bad because the threat of possibly being hospitalized, when appropriate, often makes patients be less than forthcoming with their doctors. They’re afraid that if they’re honest, some “hospital switch” will flip and into the rubber room they will be dragged.
The Reality of Mental Illness Hospitalization
But the reality of hospitals is much different. Hospitals may not be day spas, hospitals may not be picnics in Central Park, hospitals may not be hot vacation spots, but hospitals are not horrible, abusive pits of despair either.
When I give talks, I tell people about my time in the hospital and I show them the above picture. Then I joke that, “if you weren’t depressed when you got here you sure the heck were depressed that you had to stay here.” And it’s half true. Hospitals can, indeed, be depressing places. (Although many are nicer than that.)
But hospitals are also places of safety and wellness, and the other thing I say in my talk is that the hospital “was exactly what I needed at that time.” I needed to be kept safe and alive, and that is something that the hospital does, and they do it better than anyone else.
And we should not forget that many people find their time in the hospital a positive turning point in their recovery. Often the 24-hour care you find in a hospital sets people on the right path. Often the access to services that one finds in the hospital, and after being in a hospital, surpasses that which was available before and is just the thing that a person needs to get better.
And those padded rooms? Well I got asked about them just the other day, and while it is true that segregation rooms do exist, most of us will never see the inside of one. They are there for everyone’s protection and if you need one, it’ll be good that it’s there, but hopefully that will never be the case.
So while I think it’s pretty normal to see having some of your freedoms being taken away in a mental health facility as a punishment, we need to remind ourselves that really it is not. Really it’s just an admission on our part that we need protection and more help than we were getting before. We can see mental hospitals as beacons of hope, if we choose to.
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