My Forced Psychiatric “Treatment”

Update 2016: The last time my nervous system tried to go through what it’s going through now (with the heightened consciousness of having lived a long time), this is what happened: I was 19 years old and no one knew what waking up was about back then. Now I have 100s of thousands of comrades. We are here. We may still feel alone quite often but we are all here doing the work of healing and waking up…so that we might heal our selves and the planet both.

To be clear: not everyone going through such radical tranformative healing processes find themselves subjected to violent psychiatry. Many people now are finding completely alternative means of avoiding such destructive treatment and “care.” We are everywhere and we are finding one another. Many people who are also waking up don’t understand that what is going on among the psychiatrized is also a waking up process. We need to help folks understand so that the most vulnerable get the care they need. 

2016: Today my body ejects the trauma within my cells from this early heinous experience. Today I am free. Today I am healed.

MY FORCED PSYCHIATRIC TREATMENT — (standard violent, inhumane “care” for folks in spiritual crisis)  — written in 2007

Yesterday someone mistakenly assumed I had not undergone forced “treatment” and therefore could not understand the plight of so many people labeled with mental illness. The truth is I was forcibly “treated,” restrained and left in isolation a number of times. My memories of the events are blurs, but I wish to recall as best I can what happened. I should say, some particular events are as vivid as though it happened yesterday. The memories have a wave to them, some come back in detail and others are lost in a mist. I will tell the story of one of my forced “treatments.” Probably the most dramatic and I believe it was the first of no less than three.

I was 19 years old I had taken hallucinogens; I was pre-menstrual (the only time my energies got extreme); I was psychotic. I believed I was the messiah or something like that. I did not believe I was the second coming of Christ. She was in my womb waiting to be born. This sort of fantasy is a classic spiritual emergency symptom. People make complete recoveries from such phenomena with great frequency if allowed to. Psychiatry though, doesn’t believe it’s possible. I was told I would be sick for the rest of my life.

I went to the local Psychic Institute believing I would be recognized and dealt with accordingly. I was having a rough time and wanted some help.

I went to the institute and presented myself. They balked at me and told me to leave. I refused and sat on the floor in the corner, knowing this was where I was supposed to be. I was not violent, nor was I scary, except I imagine they were scared. We are not understood when we are psychotic. They called the cops.

The cops came in yelling at me to get up and out. I didn’t budge. They approached me, big and bulky and grabbed me by both arms. They dragged me across the floor to the front door and threw me down the stairs. A whole flight of stairs. I was not fighting–I was simply not cooperating. I was dead weight and they threw me down the stairs rather than carry me. I injured my arm pretty badly, but I could have been hurt much worse.

They then started trying to force me into their car. At this point I put up a struggle. They had thrown me down the stairs, what else might they do? I was scared. I was pushed and man-handled into the car and tied up with a rope hands and feet, like a cow at the rodeo.

I was then hauled off to the community public mental hospital. I was injected in the butt with haldol. The next thing I remember is coming to on a gurney in restraints. I had wiggled around in such a way so that my arms were above me and I was splayed out in what to me felt like Jesus hanging on the cross. I did not think I was Jesus, but I identified with the torture. I was pinned down and couldn’t move. I was terrified and I was alone in a small dirty room with the door shut. The door had a window in it that was about four by six inches. I could see nothing on the other side of that door. I did not know how long I would be in there and indeed it was hours.

I called out. Screamed, really. What the hell was going on? I had to go to the bathroom. I yelled for 10, 15 minutes. No one responded. I peed my pants and cried.

For the naive among you, you may think I was out of control, what else could they have done? But this is where Treatment Advocacy Center and everyone else who supports forced treatment go so wrong. I was not violent. I was peacefully sitting on someone’s floor. Perhaps I was trespassing at that point. I’ll give you that. But I did not need to be dragged out and thrown down the stairs. I was not dangerous and I was not fighting nor violent in any way until they tried to put me in the car–after the insult of the stair throwing.

From (later on in life) having had a knife held to me by two psychotic individuals I speak from experience when I say psychotic people can be talked to. They can be calmed. They can be disarmed (literally and figuratively.) I don’t hesitate to say that I imagine that 99.9% of agitated psychosis can be quelled with love.

What if the cops had been trained to deal with me? What if they hadn’t assumed I was dangerous (since I was not.) What if they had taken the time to sit with me on that floor and have a chat with me. What if they had listened? I was not violent. I did not have a weapon. What if, god damn it, they had treated me with kindness? What was the terrible hurry to treat me like a dangerous criminal?

I loved the people who held knives to me. It’s that sweet and simple. I had compassion for them. I saw their fear and I did not respond with fear. In one instance the man holding the knife was a client in my office. I was alone in the office with him. He got agitated while talking to me and stood up and drew out a long butcher knife and swung it ominously around in the air in front of me, threatening. I became very calm and I began to speak soothingly to him. “You don’t want to hurt me, S____. Give me the knife.” I repeated this a few times. He looked confused, hurt, pained–then he gave me the knife and apologized. I escorted him out of the building and he left.

The second guy who held me at knife point was someone out of his mind on LSD. We were on the streets at 3 am. He jumped wildly about me, yelling, “I’m a crazy mother-fucking Indian on acid!! You better watch out.” I calmly started asking him questions. “When did you take the acid? Do you know that you’re scaring me? I don’t think you want to hurt me.” He too came down quickly. He backed off and also apologized. He went on his way.

I can’t imagine I hold any special secret. Granted not everyone has this skill–I don’t imagine that either. But many people can learn this skill and if they were sought after and put on teams of mental health workers, much pain, anguish and torture could be obliterated.

The late Loren Mosher ran a Soteria House for psychotic individuals labeled with schizophrenia where the staff was taught to listen and love the residents. They all lived together as house-mates and there was 24 hours care for these individuals. Only 3% of these people were ever drugged and this was only in extreme cases when they were truly violent–the drugs were also used in low doses and only until the crisis was over. Most people could be talked through whatever trauma they were going through and drugs were not even necessary. 85 to 95% of the people that stayed there were able to return to the community without traditional hospital “treatment.”

I’d like to end by saying that one not need be forced in this violent fashion to experience the violence of psychiatry. Subtle coercion can be close to equally devastating on mind, body and soul. And that is the violence that is most often endured by survivors. That is what I endured for 20 years following my forced “treatment.” I’m not convinced the coercion was terribly different in what it did to my self-esteem and belief in myself. I was systematically gaslighted to believe I was crazy and would never recover. That by itself is violence too.

More information and links on forced treatment here: Coercion, subtle or otherwise, is the rule in psychiatric care…

See also:

*it is potentially dangerous to come off medications without careful planning. Please be sure to be well educated before undertaking any sort of discontinuation of medications. If your MD agrees to help you do so, do not assume they know how to do it well even if they claim to have experience. They are generally not trained in discontinuation and may not know how to recognize withdrawal issues. A lot of withdrawal issues are misdiagnosed to be psychiatric problems. This is why it’s good to educate oneself and find a doctor who is willing to learn with you as your partner in care.  Really all doctors should always be willing to do this as we are all individuals and need to be treated as such. See: Psychiatric drug withdrawal and protracted withdrawal syndrome round-up

For a multitude of ideas about how to create a life filled with safe alternatives to psychiatric drugs visit the drop-down menus at the top of this page. 

Support Beyond Meds. Enter Amazon via a link from this blog and do the shopping you’d be doing anyway. No need to purchase the book the link takes you to or make a donation with PayPal. Thank you!

About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters

28 Responses

  1. I still have nightmares of my own experiences many, many years ago. At that time it was “policy” to restrain every new admission, it was said to be “therapeutic”. In another hospital, seclusion was used on every new patient, to put the fear of G-d in them I believe, but again, they claimed it was “therapeutic”.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you and so glad you survived with your mind, heart and soul.

  2. thememoryartist

    Yes, I’ve heard those claims as to restraint being “therapeutic”. From what I’ve seen and experienced personally, it’s always punitive and always about control.

    I’ve read nursing forum threads where psych nurses bitch away about policies in their hospitals that forbid restraint, because they just don’t know what to do with those “borderlines” who keep injuring themselves (you know, cleaning up all the messy blood and stuff). And yet knowing how many people with mental illness (especially those labeled as borderline)have suffered from severe trauma such as sexual abuse, I have to wonder how they come to the conclusion that being drugged and tied to a bed with one’s arms held and legs spread is anything even close to being therapeutic.

  3. AMA

    gianna, i hope you’ll forgive me if i don’t put myself through this post. i’ve got to take these things with care, because they trigger some major bummedness in me. but i saw this sentence and i LOVE it:

    I don’t hesistate to say that I imagine that 99.9% of agitated psychosis can be quelled with love.

    so so so cool that you say that. so soothing to see it written, and to know that someone out there believes it.

    i love the look of your new blog! it’s very nice.

    ciao.

  4. I’ve had people talk me out of violence when I was psychotic. I did hit one guy I didn’t know, but then people talked me down before I could hit anyone else.

  5. “I don’t hesistate to say that I imagine that 99.9% of agitated psychosis can be quelled with love.”

    ..”so so so cool that you say that. so soothing to see it written, and to know that someone out there believes it.”

    I believe it too.

  6. Yes, I too believe psychotics can be talked down. I’ve been manhandled many times by cops and by mental health professionals. It is a very very scary experience – they have all the power over you.

  7. Firstly, congratulations on the new blog. Feels like everyone’s doing it but me…

    tma makes a pertinent point about the potentially devastating effect of using restraints etc on those who have been physically and/or sexually abused and for whom that abuse is a critical part of the etiology of their current states. Not only do many mental health professionals fail to grasp the causal significance of earlier abuse, they set up an environment that essentially replicates or resonates with that abuse. And even if they do appreciate the role that abuse can play, they fail to be mindful of the implications of the use of restraints in such cases. The whole experience of being hospitalised may thus be psychologically bundled up with the earlier abuse, thereby exacerbating the existing symptomatology.

    In my most recent (and I think for now, final) experience with therapy, my shrink sympathetically diagnosed me with PTSD on the basis of inferred child abuse (inferred in the sense that I was reluctant to go into any detail about it), she would not accept that my numerous and traumatic hospitalisations as a teenager could also have been a contributing, or even the key, factor, even though I was more willing to give her hard information about that to go on! But I suppose the narcissistic need to deny the damage done by one’s own profession is predictable enough.

  8. Hey – love your new blog.

    I have your “99.9% of agitated psychosis can be quelled with love” comment in my ‘copy and paste’ too as I read it!! But you all beat me to it – so I will say also – I know and believe it too.

    In the hospitals where I stayed, I saw skillful de-escalation techniques being used by patients, never staff. I was helped and helped others who were teetering close to forced treatment… just by listening, just by being ‘kind’…

    Great post Gianna!
    keener

  9. Gianna, thanks for sharing this. Ive had 2 alarming things happen in the last month. 1. in a medical hospital my daughter was refused treatment for dehydration even though an ER sent her there for it. once the attending doctor [remember she is an admitted patient like you or me]found out she took psych meds, he refused to give her anymore fluids via the IV in her arm, and eventually [long awful story] was roughed up and taken to my car by 2 armed security guards. just a month ago with me right there. 2. when i went to the court house, and they told me where to find my daughter, i opened the door and walked in to the worst scene –5-6 or more, gurneys with people strapped 4 points and having to search each face to find my daughter’s face. i will leave it at that, and will write more when i can on my blog–but what you went through, it is still happening. thats why im waiving her presence in court as long as she isnt verbally asking to go im going for her, so she wont have that trauma–besides getting wheeled down the middle of the road on a gurney later.

    Take care, my heart breaks reading so many stories.

  10. well i looked up the laws and i know i will be jailed if I take her out of there on my own against court orders. Not that i was thinking about it or anything. what i want for her? a big horse ranch where she can have her dream of horses and dogs and be free to be herself. im glad i know her dreams and paid attention to them, because that helps me fight for her when i can tell her story to professionals.

  11. Hi all, Gianna, great new look here, thanks for the heads-up.

    I’m sorry you went through that, but glad you know what it did to you. I agree with your response, compassionate de-escalation can be effective probably in the majority of cases, and should be considered first practice in curing psychotic breaks. What was happening in your scenario reminds me of something Bruno Bettleheim described in The Art of the Obvious; the cops and orderlies tying you down and screaming in your face, what is that, if not psychosis? It’s such a hall of mirrors, and the identities merge and shimmy, the providers so self-unaware and twisted up in their repressed envy and projection. If only they could identify as human beings with the mad people they see as horrifying Other maybe they wouldn’t take on the identity themselves and act it out on patients with relish. What they thought you “were” is all in their sick psychology, it’s amazing they don’t see themselves become this thing they hate, and do it to vulnerable unthreatening people, who are not their twisted phantasms.

    I personally have never experienced coercive treatment, but I have significant relationships with people who have, and do, and I came real close when I ended up in the regular hospital ER during what I thought was a stroke or heart attack. I couldn’t form words, it was all garbled, so I got the “altered mental state” diagnosis, treated like garbage, no restraints, but they arrested me when I tried to leave. Over the course of 6 hours I was gradually treated with more respect as my cognitive functions came back and I was able to argue for release. Seeing that terrified me, the conditional positive regard, based on nothing more than my emerging ability to talk rationally. That people, doctors and nurses could make that justifiable cause for treating someone with dignity (or not) was so terrifying to see play out. I wonder what will happen to them when they get Alzheimer’s. What goes around….

  12. I used to feel sorry for myself for the mean things that were said and the mistreatment I received in in-patient psychiatric care. After reading your stories, I feel fortunate. And that, in itself is sad.

    I’m trying to develop another way…check out my blog and let me know what you think.

  13. thememoryartist

    Carrie,
    Your URL was entered incorrectly, so your link doesn’t click through. Could leave it again?

    Thanks.

  14. Rose

    Ah, stories like these make me so angry. In all our time in hospitals, I can’t even count how many similar things I’ve witnessed. In the “quiet rooms” there is, mandated by state law, a piece of paper behind plexiglass that details the rights of a person who is left in seclusion or put in restraints. One of the things it says is that S/R shall not be used in place of therapy, treatment, or for the convenience of the staff.

    BULLSHIT. Not only is it done in place of treatment [read: paying attention to, talking with, trying to understand a person] and for the convenience of staff (who have so many papers to fill out and jokes to tell each other, hanging around the nurses station), there are staff in every hospital who are *keen and excited* to get physical and bind someone to a stationary object.

    And cops? Cops are worse then cons when it comes to getting nasty and abusive if they think you aren’t obeying them quickly enough or “respecting their authoritay.” They shouldn’t be allowed within twenty feet of people with mental illnesses. Another schizophrenic man was killed by my city’s finest a few weeks ago. Why did they have to stomp him so badly he DIED from it? He wouldn’t do what they said. You know: get on the ground, hands on your head, blah blah. He didn’t make any effort to hurt anyone, or even to escape. He just wasn’t where they were, and didn’t fall to and obey.

    Wow, I need to shut up now, I’m burning up.

    I do need to say this. We, Rose, have been lucky when it comes to punitive measures in psych settings. I don’t know why, but it plainly was luck. For the amount of time we’ve spent hospitalized, we have very few episodes like the one you’ve described here on our tally sheet. I’m grateful.

    Zoe

  15. Excellent writing of your story Gianna. I hope this inspires others to speak of the horrible treatment they received from psychiatry as well.

  16. UTgrad

    During an inpatient stay, I experienced the fun of being surrounded and dragged back to my room from the cafeteria. At the time I was very dizzy. I didn’t get up when it was time to go (I was afraid I would fall). The room was spinning. The doc had taken me off all my old psych meds and put me on all new ones. I felt horrible. This one asshole psych tech sat down next to me and started threatening me, and I just sat there. Then, came the show of force and I was physically dragged back to my room. I was not threatening myself or anyone else, I was just an inconvenience. This appears nowhere in my medical records. What’s the saying? If you don’t document, it didn’t happen? I was in patient for depression. Let’s just say they didn’t exactly help with my depression.

  17. thememoryartist

    UT grad,
    I saw staff do the very same thing once to a woman who fell off her chair onto the floor in the dining room during dinner. Something was really wrong and they came and started yelling at her to get up. She couldn’t even move. A nurse and a female tech dragged her by her arms out of the dining room and down the hallway to her room. They didn’t even call a doctor for her.
    I remember how numb I was watching that happen, knowing it was wrong, but never saying anything.

    I got woken up and dragged down the hall by my legs to a seclusion room and put in restraints and shot with haldol and ativan at another hospital when they saw old blood on a blanket I was sleeping with. They thought I had injured myself again.

    Yes, TAC really needs to work to remove the barriers to timely and effective treatment. They can begin by working to stop the force, coercion and violence in the mental health system.

  18. UTgrad

    Oh, yeah the psych techs love their power. Unfortunately, people will only understand what forced treatment feels like when they end up in a nursing home one day. Then, they’ll finally understand.

  19. Denise

    I could never imagine this crap happening in the mental health system until I experienced it myself. I am still devastated by my traumatic experiences and am sad to hear that police threw you down the stairs. How dare they! I too was treated like a criminal and forced into restraints and isolation. For years I believed there was nothing I could do to fight back against this forced drugging and even the subtle coercion that my family brainwashed me with. It took me years to be able to get out from the fear that overtook my life and my relationships. I am only now at 47 learning how to be assertive and stand up for myself. I will not keep silent. Thank you so much for your powerful examples and for your courage to speak out. I refuse to no longer be a victim of this mentally ill system. Just recently I spoke out at a local event about stigma and mental health and planted the seeds that we do have choices in recovery. Unfortunately so many at the event are brainwashed into believing the drugs are the only answer and there is nothing else. It is very upsetting that alternatives are not given to people. In Minnesota the forced drug agenda has overtaken nearly every “support” program available and people who want health are very much on their own. ~ Denise

  20. Sloopy Cowbell

    Hi Gianna!

    Sadly, I can identify with much of your story, and the brutality of the mental health system.

    I became acutely psychotic about 15 years ago, much aggravated by narcotics.

    In the space of a few months, I managed to be forcibly detained for psychiatric “treatment” in three separate countries – Canada, Ireland and England. What an accolade!

    I gained an unenviable insight of those three mental health systems, and how they contrast.

    The Canadian system was perhaps the most frightening of all, maybe partly because it was my first involuntary admission.

    I was never in any way violent, but nevertheless found myself detained against my will, albeit in a remarkably plush university hospital.

    In a prolonged argument with some God-awful shrink, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to take her drugs. As I saw it, I didn’t need them. I was in an emotional crisis, my problems were spiritual in nature.

    The psychiatrist begged to differ, and with her patience worn thin, she gestured to her colleagues.

    Within seconds, I found myself knocked to the ground, my face physically rammed into the floor as I was sat on by her team of heavyweight psychiatric staffers.

    Then I was literally strait-jacketed for refusing to take their Haldol!

    I awoke after what could have been days later in an locked isolation room. My head in a thick fog and my face badly swollen and sore from the grazes and bruising of the manhandling.

    Eight days later, they triumphantly declared me fit to leave. Yet I had never felt so ill!

    I staggered out, uncontrollably pissing myself as I left the building. My incontinence, I later realised, was due to an extra hefty dose of Haldol they gave me to help me on my way.

    Some system!

  21. downcastmysoul

    Now I’m sorry I ever ever got involved in the psychiatric system. What if I have a serious physical emergency in the future and these docs find I have a “psychiatric” history? Will they deny me treatment? I got treated like shit during my adolescent hospitalization, but nothing like this. The main deal with me was being in a locked ward with kids that had a criminal history and I did not. Plus, the psychiatrist that ran that ward decided she did not like me. I thought physical abuse like that only happened in prisons, now. What if I have a stroke and cannot talk right? Will I get some damn Haldol while my brain is dying?

Comments are closed.