Healthy Huskies: The problem with institutionalization 

Though psychiatric wards are helpful in diluting a mental health crisis, there have been many issues raised with the current state of operation. Illustration by Steven Coleman/The Daily Campus

When someone is in a severe mental health crisis, often the first suggestion is to check into some sort of mental health facility. These places usually are psychiatric wards in large public hospitals. If you are in danger of hurting others or yourself, admission into a psychiatric ward is certainly the right call to make. Safety comes above all else and you should never be afraid to get the help you need.  

While psychiatric wards are extremely helpful in diluting a mental health crisis, the general public has also raised many issues with the way psychiatric wards and institutions are currently operated. For example, psychiatric wards were created specifically as a short-term solution to getting you out of a severe crisis state. As a result, many patients are discharged quickly — even if they may need more time to heal.  

Many psychiatric wards are guilty of discharging people too quickly, making patients enter a “revolving door” state — where they discharge from the unit and then find themselves back in the hospital, weeks or even days later.   

Psychiatric wards across the nation have also been criticized for using powerful injectable sedatives and inhumane restraints to subdue patients. While in some cases sedatives and restraints may be necessary to calm down violent and combative patients, some units take too much liberty with the use of these methods.  

For example, Sundance Hospital in North Texas came under fire in 2018 after multiple patients came forward with their experiences, many who were minors at the time of their admission. One patient, who at the time was a pregnant 16-year-old, was subdued with powerful sedatives after asking to speak with a doctor in the unit. The girl stated that she was non combative with staff, but after repeating her request multiple times, the staff decided that she was being defiant and dosed her with a powerful sedative. She woke up hours later confused and fearful.  

Texas law states that in order to use sedative injections on minors, the hospital must have either written consent from guardians or an official court order. The girl clarified that Sundance Hospital did not have any form of documented consent for the use of these techniques and after her discharge she and her family promptly spoke out against the hospital. This is certainly not an incident isolated in Texas, as the use of these sedative injections are quite common in hospitals around the nation.  

In many cases, hospitals will opt to use prescribed medication as a form of sedation and subduement. This complicates the situation patients experience in psychiatric wards because they often are prescribed medications without much personal input. Many times doctors and psychiatrists in these units do not listen to the patients themselves, rendering people helpless to whatever medications doctors choose to place them on.  

In a psychiatric unit, you are not allowed to discharge unless you take all your prescribed medications. In some cases, however, this can be more detrimental than helpful.  

In an anonymous article by the International Coalition Against Restraint and Seclusion, a former patient told his story regarding medications while held in a psychiatric ward. “I am a large man, standing well over six feet tall with a heavy build. Rather than risk me becoming violent, I was put on a regime of antipsychotics and other sedatives as a preventative measure,” he stated. “I was at times so sedated that I could not string a coherent sentence together. What I do remember is a feeling of a loss of control. The words in my brain would not translate to the words coming out of my mouth. I was scared most of the time. I felt more like a prisoner than a patient.” 

In closing, I would like to state that this article is not intended to deter you from help if that is something you truly need. In fact, Connecticut has a few psychiatric treatment centers that are highly revered by former patients. Rather, this article is simply to inform you of unsavory practices that happen in psychiatric units across the country. 

If you are in danger of hurting yourself or others, it is extremely important that you reach out for help and get to a safe place. But it is also important to keep yourself informed, so that you can advocate for yourself and your health in the best way possible.  

If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis, please call the U.S. Crisis Hotline at 988.  

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