By Will Hall
Dear Post-traumatic Disorders Program, Psychiatric Institute of Washington,
A close and dear friend is dead.
She was a patient at your hospital, and a few days ago she sent me this text:
“I left the trauma program after 48 hours. I was appalled at the environment, the terrible therapy and being treated like a prisoner. I went there looking for healing and support and found the experience even more traumatic. Western mental health systems are dehumanizing and insane.”
That was the last message I ever received from her. I got a call that my friend’s body was found in the river: she drowned herself.
After many weeks of searching she came to your program in what was to be her last act of hope. My friend made a great effort in a time of utter despair. She trusted you.
I am stricken with grief but I am not looking to blame. Suicide is a human mystery and nobody can know why one person chooses to endure while another chooses to end their life. She is not here to help us understand.
But when she was here, were you listening? Did you offer refuge and kindness? What pretense of behavioral science can absolve you of the basic duty to be gentle and loving to a human being in pain?
No, I don’t want to blame. As I find the courage to write this letter, I have hope that you might understand. I hope that someone reading this letter might now take this chance and really hear my friend, really understand what her last message says about your program.
But I also have a fear. I fear that you will listen instead to what you think you already know about her. I am afraid that once again you will use diagnosis and assessment to disqualify and dismiss her, in the same way that destroyed her last act of hope.
I am afraid that, to my friend’s death, you will just add another tragedy.