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A project in collaboration with SecondAid
SecondAid is a start-up nonprofit working to reform the mental health industry. Their mission is to bring to light and reform the abuses within the American mental health industry. They actively protest, give talks in schools, make speeches, and engage in a wide variety of other methods in order to provide a voice for America's silenced patients.
We are not proposing that all hospitals are bad. We are sharing these stories as they must be heard, and institutions must improve so that anyone who enters a hospital in need of treatment can feel safe.
"It’s difficult to find coverage on these violations in hospitals; there is little transparency. These facilities and the standards they are held to must be better."
"The system can be traumatic, especially for children and teenagers whose experiences in their youth last with them and shape their views on life."
The battle for improving the mental health system is not one of the past; it’s one that must happen in the present for the future.
We want to hold these systems accountable.
We want to start conversations.
We Deserve Better
" How is a system that leaves people at their breaking point, dying, considered functional?
It’s ironic - a system that’s supposed to restore people to their ‘high functioning’ states, itself is perhaps more non-functional than most things.
I’ve been let down, countless times, by the system that’s supposed to help. By a system that treats me like a defective object - a system that will do anything but listen to those who need it the most.
I’ve been let down because of stereotypes - I’m Asian and ‘academically able’ so ‘obviously not autistic.’
I’ve been let down because I’m not dead yet, so surely I’m not ‘actually suicidal.’
I’ve been let down because I’ve been deemed to be ‘too difficult,’ and professionals don’t want to ‘waste time’ on me.
I’ve been let down every time I ask for help. Every time I try to speak.
I’ve been accused countless times of being defiant - purposefully acting out.
Helpless children are not acting out - they are crying, silently, for help. "
A Letter to the System
~ Mira Sunwon Goldstein
" My name is Mira Sunwon Goldstein. I’ve gotten to know systems pretty well by now. The alphabet is a system. There are systems in math. I was part of the school system. I’ve never been fond of institutions, though. There are too many rules for me. There are sweatshirts without drawstrings and my hospital room without curtains. There are security guards who sit in your room and laugh with you and then suddenly those same security guards are holding you down and it hurts. There are nurses you play Uno with and the same nurses shove a feeding tube down your nose into your stomach as you lie there and cry. Eating disorders hate hospitals. The last time I was at an eating disorder center, W_____, I ran into a moving car to get out of the system. The system there was all too focused on the effects of my eating disorder, and not at all on the underlying cause. The system at F_________’s was all too focused on my suicidal ideation and not on my eating disorder.
My name is Mira Sunwon Goldstein. I have been waiting for help all my life. Now that everything's out in the open, I was expecting to get it. I did not expect to be at B______________'s a month after I was medically cleared, waiting for a bed in a mental hospital. I know that my case is “comprehensive”. I know that being suicidal and having an eating disorder isn’t getting me anywhere in the mental health services system. I know that my doctors and parents have been trying their hardest to get me into a setting where I can be Mira with an eating disorder and Mira with suicidal ideation. What I don’t know is how long it is going to take. Every day I feel my chest cave in a bit more. Everyday I spend in my tiny white room unable to leave bed, my heart sinks just a little. My patience is wearing thin. I miss my home. I miss being around people. I miss the sky. "
~ Brynna Townsend
" I slept without a pillow for 6 days and when I asked for one they acknowledged me but never brought me one. It got so bad to the point that they stopped checking in on me and forgot to give me, a person with anorexia nervosa, mind you, most of my meals for 4 days straight. I was supposed to have all of my meals logged on a special page because of my disorder, but they forgot to do that as well. Only one staff member, who worked the night shift, would bring me dinner. They also were supposed to only give me blind weights but the nurse didn’t do that and that triggered such a bad panic attack that my blood pressure shot up to 146.
On my last day of my quarantine, the fire alarms went off and I started sobbing and yelling for someone to let me out of my room. The door was a metal door with a little window near the bottom of it so that they could see me – I was yelling and crying “What do I do?” over and over again, and it took them 5 minutes to notice me. "
" I arrived at the hospital in 2019 when I was twelve-years-old, after my mom called the ambulance because my therapist at the time told her to, since I was having a very intense panic attack (to the point where I was refusing to come out of my closet). I was so terrified that I wouldn’t even leave the house or talk to anyone for weeks before this. I had also attempted suicide a couple days before. I was not used to being around other humans regularly in public. I would not even speak to my therapist because I was terrified to speak. I have Autism and selective mutism.
I was dragged out of my closet while kicking and screaming near my mom because she didn’t want the ambulance to take me. Nobody told me where I was going or what was happening. I did not have time to pack my clothes.
When we got there I was brought into questioning, and then they put me in a wheelchair and wheeled me to the children’s psychiatric ward. I had been at the hospital for hours for questioning and waiting and I was exhausted and just wanted to go home. I was so confused and scared. I had to strip in front of two female nurses and be weighed. It was so embarrassing. Then they made me shower and change into some clothes that they provided me. I kept wondering where my parents were. When I was crying, they told me I shouldn’t be crying because it was my fault I was there but I didn’t even know where I was! I asked to call my parents but they would not allow me. I sobbed for hours and kept begging to call my mom. "
~ Suzie McMillan
" I have spent my life since I was 8 trying to figure out what is wrong with me. I am 16 now, and the strongest diagnosis I have got was from a doctor who put me on the CAHMS waiting list, which if you are in the UK, is known to be very long. I have OCD and have been on the list for a year. Every now and again, I get an email or letter saying that I’m still on there, just not any further up. Recently, I was at a point where I could not leave the house due to fear of germs, which as you can imagine, was not helped by COVID. I have had suicidal thoughts, and have self harmed in the past - almost being figured out a little while ago but tried to get my way out of it. I want help, but I can’t seem to get any. I have been to counsellors, general therapists and other holistic places, but I am really trying to be put forward for CBT. I’m trying, but the system is failing. It’s likely that by the time I’m at the top of the list, I’ll be 18 and will have aged out. "
" My name is Marissa I am 20 years old and in 2015-2016 I was hospitalized 3 times. I went to a place called _____ in _____ Washington on two separate occasions. Both times were miserable as expected but nothing compared to when I spent 13 days at Seattle children’s hospital. During my thirteen days we were not allowed outside due to “construction”. We could see other people who weren’t in the psychiatric unit outside through the windows. As someone who heals in nature this was painful. When in group we were forced to sit all day in hard chairs that caused our backs to ache. (I have pre existing back issues that were made worse) It was a very cold environment and very sterile. I was not allowed to wear anything other than a long sleeve. We could always spot the people who cut that way. We were forced to take turns reading from a book everyday for the majority of the day. On days where no one felt like reading the staff would shame us. A staff member felt the need to tell us it cost our parents $7000 a night for us to be here and we were “wasting time and money” by putting our heads down. We were not allowed to talk to one another about our stories or anything related to our illnesses. We were separated into groups by our ages most of the time, which sucked for people like me who related to older people. "
" At B______ hospital it was even worse, this time I was put in by force. The psychiatrist made up a lie that said I tried to kill myself although I didn't, and all I needed was a break, I didn't need to be taken to the hospital. Once I was in the hospital I would cry all day for a whole week and the second week was just as bad. This might be the worst mental hospital on all of long Island. You can look at the reviews for yourself. It was horrible in there. We weren't able to do any activities, we were locked to one wing with no gym or outside area. One time one of the girls had a breakdown and the door was locked for some reason. This was all in the room where we would do activities like drawing or playing cards. We all became triggered and were unable to leave. When security came one of the guards punched a girl in the face. There is no reason a guard should have been able to do that, I dont even think he was fired. There was no therapy in this psych hospital wither. We were just fed medication and let out after lying that we were okay. There is not a single girl in there that would be let out if they said the truth about how they felt. Psych hospitals are cruel and not fun like tiktok makes them seem. These are places where you can get ptsd and nurses will take sides with patients they like and treat you differently for no reason like it's high school. You aren't given any help there, the only thing is medication. They only talk to your parents and never ask you about how you feel or your symptoms other than maybe a bipolar yes or no sheet. How can you diagnose a patient when you only talk to their parents? "
The System and I
~ Mira Sunwon Goldstein
" My name is Mira Sunwon Goldstein and two years ago, I lived in the hospital for nine months.
Before I was hospitalized, I didn’t know what the inside of an ambulance looked like, much less seven. I used to think you receive care at one hospital, not nine in one year. I didn’t know what bone density tests were, or EKGs, or orthostatics.
I did not used to know how an IV felt, or a feeding tube when it was inserted up your nose and into your stomach. I didn’t know the pain you felt when your liver was on the brink of failure.
I used to think I knew pain.
I don’t know what to think anymore
How did hospitals become my prison? How much longer would I spend in this tiny white room? How many days until both my nostrils bruised and a tube wouldn’t fit in them?
I was restrained again and again and again. I pulled my tube out. Tried to run. Fought security guards. I wasn’t allowed to leave my room. My hospital curtains were taken down and black paper sealed my window. My legs hurt from laying in bed; I slept with compression cuffs to keep my blood circulation normal. "
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