5 Jun

From the brave and illuminating Elyn Saks (take 14:53 minutes to watch her TED talk):

Someone I’ll call just ‘The Doctor,’ and his whole team of goons swooped down, grabbed me, lifted me out of the chair and slammed me down on a nearby bed with such force that I saw stars. Then they bound both my legs and arms to the metal bed, with thick leather straps.

A sound came out of my mouth that I’d never heard before. Half-groan, half-scream, barely human, and pure terror. Then the sound came again, forced from somewhere deep inside my belly and scraping my throat raw.

This incident resulted in my involuntary hospitalization. One reason the doctors gave for holding me against my will was that I was gravely disabled. Supporting this view, they wrote in my chart that I was not able to do my Yale Law School homework. I wonder what that meant for most of the rest of New Haven.

During the next year, I would spend five months in psychiatric hospitals on the East Coast. At times, I spent up to 20 hours a day in restraints — hands tied, hands and feet tied down, hands and feet tied down with a net tied tightly across my chest. I never struck anyone, I never harmed anyone, I never made any direct threats to anyone.

I was lucky I wasn’t one of the one to three people who die in restraints each week.

Some people still hold [the] view that restraints help psychiatric patients feel safe. I’ve never met a psychiatric patient who agreed.

Today, I am pro-psychiatry and anti-force. I don’t think force is effective as a treatment. And I think using force is a terrible thing to do to another human being with a terrible illness.


One Response to “restraints”

  1. jwocrc June 6, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

    I am glad to see more schizophrenic patients sharing their experiences publicly. This individual illustrates beautifully some of the most difficult aspects of mental illness. For starters, even though she had been in treatment for years, she still denied her illness, as she so clearly showed when dismissing her therapist’s suggestion that she accept her medication and get on with her life. I saw as one of the chief reasons for a prolonged stay the inability of the ill person to accept their illness. Indeed, it’s a hallmark of mental illness — the absolute conviction, against all information, no matter how overwhelming — that the person can and must “do it on my own,” refusing drugs (often secretly reducing their medication and refusing to resume even when their world is falling to pieces around them). Only when they accept their lack of control, and give up the pretense that they have control, can they actually master the illness.

    Depression just might be the worst of the worst, because, in addition to all of the above, the depressed person is smothered in a blanket of absolute conviction that there is no hope; nothing will ever help them; they will never ever get better; when others say they can get better, they are just saying that out of naivete.

    One of the biggest advantages of a patient under care for some mental illness, but now in remission, coming into the hospital was that they often were the only folks who had a chance of getting through the denial of the illness to get a patient to accept their need for medication. They are not the establishment. “The medication thing isn’t hype. It works for me, and it can work for you too.”

    She does not say when her enforced involuntary commitment happened. Where I worked, a patient could not be restrained without some compelling cause. Of course, this individual may not recall how dangerous she appeared to those around her at that time. Memory is a very selective process.

    She shows how important a support system is for the emotionally fragile person. Friends or family can actually prompt the person to be aware of some sign that a breakdown is coming. Having a spouse who accepts the need to provide that type of feedback is also essential.

    I’ve had the privilege of interacting with other consumers who have become consultants and advisors. Names like Patricia Deegan Ph.D. and Joel Slack come to mind. At a conference a few years ago, I spoke with folks in three-piece suits who talked about their hospitalizations, and how they have to track their triggers to cut off a possible relapse “at the pass.”

    Professionals, family, friends and members of the community all need to get some information about what things are like for the mentally ill.

    We’re getting better, but, Oh my, there’s so much more to learn.

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