not allow them to share. This suppression of emotions leads to mental health concerns. We
are all little machines of a society that tells us to think, act, and feel a certain way. Do you not believe
- Hello. How are you?
- Good. You?
How many “conversations” do you have like this daily? Our conversations are not meaningful; our
conversations are not sincere; our conversations are not personal. This is because
society has told us all to conform to this unspoken law of perfection. We need to look
perfect, dress perfect, speak perfect, act perfect… be perfect. As a whole, we have turned
into robots, robots who can’t be themselves. This causes people to put out a persona. We
wear a mask; everyone wears a mask.
Later, these deep rooted, pushed aside, forgotten emotions, lead to mental health issues because the brain is overwhelmed with emotion. The United States leads in mental illness, but falls behind in treatment. About one in
four American adults suffer from some mental illness. That is about seven people in this room. Furthermore, the way it is dealt with for most is inhumane and unjust because of hospitalization and
medication. It is all a system focused on making money rather than helping the patient of concern.
Mental health care is one of the biggest unmet needs of our time.
What did you do last night?... Some of you probably took a nice shower, tied the drawstring on your
favorite pajama bottoms, and got into your cozy bed. This was not the case for many Americans,
Americans who are in a psychiatric hospital.
It’s 11:00 pm. You lay down on the flimsy mattress with salmon colored sheets that you have been
assigned; you pull the holey, stained cover up to your neck in a room a sixth the size of this classroom,
with no windows and one door. You lie awake because the sedative pills that are supposed to affect
your brain chemicals have worn off. There is an odd glow in the room because the door is open; it’s
open because you are going to be checked in on every fifteen minutes. When you close your
eyes you try to tell yourself that this is not happening; it is not real; it’s just a dream.
Fast forward to 6:30 am. You managed to fall asleep for an hour or so, but you are woken up with a
needle stuck in your arm and a nurse reading your vitals. You look over to see the nurse. In her scrub’s
pocket she has the tranquilizer for patients who are not immediately compliant. You get up, groggy and
tired, trying to remember the previous day.
It’s now 7:30 am and you are in a room with no windows; you wonder what the sun looks like. You take
your morning medication. There are other people sitting around the table that you do not know. A
nurse hands you a piece of paper and the children’s pencils you used to use. When you look at the
paper you see that it asks for your goals for the day and has little smiley faces asking you to select your
current mood. You write down an answer that you think the nurse will like and walk into the hallway for
8:00 am. You stand in line facing forward with your right shoulder on the wall. Like in preschool, the
nurse parades you and the others through the padlock double door to the cafeteria. You find
that today will be just like every other day; you will get a plate of cold eggs and a raw piece of some kind
of meat. They will hand you a Styrofoam cup of water and a plastic fork. Keep in mind you only get to
use a plastic fork if you have earned that right. You never have an appetite so you throw your food
away; the nurse writes something on your chart.
You are paraded back into your ward around 9:00 am and forced to join the group. The nurse reviews
the rules of the hospital: do not run, do not use the community phone for more than five minutes, if you
need to use the bathroom tell a nurse and they will take you, no talking about food, politics, suicide …
the nurse keeps talking but you have tuned them out.
When everyone starts to stand up you realize it is already 10:00 am. This means you get until noon to sit
and do nothing. They think you will use the time to reflect. You instead pick at your skin in the corner
waiting to be herded around like a sheep again. You take your next drug cocktail.
Lunch comes and goes the same as breakfast; only this time you are one person short because they had
a panic attack and tried to smash their head on the wall.
After lunch it is 1:00 pm. The group is talking about what it means to have resiliency. You hope no one
calls on you. They do. You stare at the physiatrist’s door in silence until they move on. You don’t
remember the one time you talked to the doctor who prescribed all the medication you have been
When the session ends at 2:30 pm the activities coordinator walks in with a bucket of the simplest
coloring pages you have seen and off-brand markers. Everyone gets one coloring page and they have to
turn it back in at the end; they don’t want anyone to hurt themselves. You feel dumb doing it, but you
fill the page anyway with meaningless colors. The lady asks if anyone wants to play charades; one or
two people raise their hands. During activity time your vitals are taken again. The nurse reminds you to
stand on the scale backwards. Then you take your afternoon medication.
You are getting tired of hearing the same things: journal, call a friend, go for a run. Suddenly a young girl
with schizophrenia, screaming and throwing herself against the wall, has now become the focus. Every
couple of days this happens, and in a twisted way punctuates the drabness of the day. She is artfully
restrained by the staff and taken to “the padded cell.” We are all told it is for her own protection, but
some of the other patients cheer when she makes a break from the nurses.
It’s 4:00 pm and you are exhausted. You are tired of being stared at by the nurses who push you around
and dismiss your concerns. You are starting to think about life when a new patient arrives. They look
lost and confused; it reminds you of yourself. You feel bad for this person but do not have enough
energy to help them. You take another round of medications.
Somehow you made it to dinner. It’s 6:30 pm. Many people are getting fat from the packaged,
processed, peculiar food while others are getting thin from the avoidance of the pitiful provisions.
The day is beginning to wind down. All that is left is visiting hours at 7:30 pm and evening group
meeting at 8:30 pm. A few people show up for visiting hours, but no one for you because you are many
hours from home. During the group meeting you are given back your list of goals you wrote out that
morning. Then you have to talk about if you met those goals. This is your least favorite part of the day.
It’s hard to achieve your goals when you are not given any opportunities. The meeting ends and you
stand in line for your last dose of medication. You stick your tongue out to show the nurse you
swallowed it and walk back down the hall to the second door on the left. Your roommates are already
on their mattresses asleep.
You fall asleep quickly tonight because of your new combination of medications. You are grateful for
them and remind yourself of that. The next morning starts too soon with a nurse sticking your arm with
Hospitalization and medication is the current system in which many individuals are forced to go through.
This is one of the reasons why people with mental health conditions do not seek out help even when
they know they need it. It is a targeting solution that gives individuals a stigma of weakness and
peculiarity. Whether it is a voluntary or involuntary admittance, once in an inpatient psychiatric
hospital, patients are pushed around like cattle and eventually seen as another number in the
statistic. No one is told of the schedule or the routine, few speak with a therapist, and everyone is given
medication after medication after medication. The experience is dehumanizing and
Kafkaesque: the all-consuming sense of powerlessness and fear from being involuntarily held in a
psychiatric ward. The perverse absurdity of it is that no one is allowed to feel the rational things
someone would feel if involuntarily put into a psychiatric ward-- anger, humiliation, and defeat. If one
expresses any of those things, it becomes interpreted, respectively, as symptoms of: mania, a
persecution delusion, or suicidal depression. And that would just mean, clearly, that you're not getting
any better so you must stay longer and lose a little more of yourself in the process. Family, friends,
society judge these people and look on them from afar, causing alienation and disorientation.
How is this addressing those underlying emotions? How is this isolation and abandonment aiding in
recovery? How is being treated like an animal with disrespect giving these individuals a safe,
comfortable space they can explore themselves? How is this helping the 61.5 million Americans with a
form of mental illness?