mental health Sundays #3 - racist abuse in the mental health system

Today’s mental health Sundays post is going to be a little different. I’m going to tell you about something that I witnessed when I was hospitalized. I wish I could have the victim of this story share it themselves, but I don’t know their name or who they are.

As many of you know, I was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital late 2018. I’m always hesitant to speak badly of the experience because I don’t want to dissuade anyone from ever seeking help. So let me just get this out of the way first: though the experience was traumatic, that was where I needed to be at the time to save my life. However that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t speak up and advocate for change.

Before I was given a bed in an inpatient facility, I was left handcuffed to a stretcher in a hallway of an emergency room for around 24 hours without food or water. I wasn’t alone. In front of me was a Black woman (who I believe was homeless), also handcuffed to a stretcher, going through what seemed to be psychosis. Instead of a doctor, social worker, or nurse, it was a cop that kept watch over us. It was an extremely degrading experience.

This Black woman was distressed (understandable given the circumstance), but so was I. While the cops and nurses basically ignored me, this woman, who was NOT displaying any violent behavior, was consistently strapped down by 3 or more nurses and police officers. For no damn reason, other than the fact that she (just like I) was sobbing and upset. It wasn’t until the cops and nurses consistently put hands on her that she started reacting “aggressively.” At a certain point she was violently held down and injected with tranquilizer.

At one point during the night the cop that was watching us switched shifts. As he briefed the other cop on the situation, he pointed to me and said “she’s the easy one.” Then he pointed to the other woman and called her a lunatic.

But the thing is that she wasn’t being “difficult” and I wasn’t being “easy.” We were both literally asking for the same thing: food, permission to go to the bathroom, and water. Yet she was met with violence, while I was basically ignored. It’s not hard to imagine why.