HELP MAKE VITAL CHANGES IN THE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM!
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I am fifteen years old, and I have spent 726 days of my life circulating through mental health programs for depression, anxiety, and a generalized ED.
During these times, I miss whole chunks of my childhood that I will never, ever get back. I will never be able to attend the parties and extracurriculars that others my age take for granted. I will never experience the thrill of entering highschool because I spent my whole first year of it hospitalized. I will never be able to chase back the time that was taken away from me and pursue all of the dreams I had: auditioning for The Voice, publishing the novel I have been writing for seven years, traveling to Italy with my school...
And yet, it would all be worth it if going through all these programs could mean that I would one day get better, be able to function in society, and make the rest of my life worth it. I would not mind spending another 726 days of a childhood I will never get back in programs if it meant that I could go a whole day being happy -- if I could even remember what happiness feels like.
But that's not happening.
Treatment in psychiatric units is not what people think it is. Every day, I witness and experience things that I believe no one should ever have to be put through. I have watched counselors laugh and joke about the extra money they'll make staying after hours while holding down a seven-year-old, screaming that she wants to die. I remember this same seven-year-old coming into the program with just a slight anxiety disorder and watched her mental health deteriorate and her seven-year-old spirit get crushed. I have watched her grow up far too fast. I have watched staff roll their eyes at her and treat her with cold comments and sarcastic remarks and insensitive redirection when it is plain to me -- someone who has not undergone a minute of psychiatric training -- that she just needs a tiny bit of empathy. I have seen the terrified eyes that watch as peers shout profanities and stony-faced security guards shove them onto beds to be strapped down.
I am someone who is living through this every day, and even without a degree and a badge that says I'm working at one of the top-ranked psych hospitals, I can tell you that this is not what we need.
At thirteen, I was admitted to my first hospital, and I met a girl not much older than me, who told me that this was her twentieth psych ward without batting an eyelash. Two years later, she's at her fortieth. Why do kids continue to circulate through programs if these places are helping us? Why do we come out of programs and attempt suicide ten times more often and get admitted to higher and higher levels of care? Why do we live in a society where it is acceptable for young people to have entire years of their youth taken away?
The attitude in the mental health system needs to change. We need to be recognized as individuals who each have a story to be told. We need to be treated as humans, not just patients. I don't have a degree, and I could not tell you how to label the parts of the brain and their neurological functions, but I can tell you that the ideal of "safety trumps everything" has been taken to an extreme, and the purpose is being defeated.
An eleven-year-old child who is intent on scratching his wrists does not need four security guards rushing in to hold him down. In five days, the scratches will fade, but the horror of being strapped down by strangers and stabbed by a needle containing an unknown medication will remain with him for the rest of his life. I have not read his pile of paperwork, but I know that what he needs is not a frightful night of staff making snide comments about him behind his back, or security guards boasting about how they are the Alphas on the floor who show up first to every restraint.
Nothing makes us feel more hopeless and worthless than to be regarded by the masks of professionalism and invisible barriers called "boundaries," which seems to be the only thing that matters. Kids who have grown up neglected and abused all their lives have not been shipped off to another program so they can see more uncaring faces and be answered with more feelingless replies.
We are rarely listened to, although it is us that knows what we need best. We are given treatment by strangers who barely even know us, and are often too busy and confident in their knowledge to sit down with us and listen. How can these psychiatrists and psychologists and counselors possibly know what we need if they have never walked in our shoes? How can they possibly allow themselves to help us if they see us and treat us as patients that need to be controlled, managed, and filed into cabinets and fit into generic treatment plans?
We are imprisoned by not only unit walls and Plexiglas windows but also the endless restrictions piled upon us and staff's aloof replies that we brought this upon ourselves. Trust me -- if we could find away to be happy, safe, and free, we would.
Safety is important; boundaries are important, and as a rule-follower and someone who strives to do good in society, I know. But I have suffered from depression for nearly half my life, and I see the same need for human empathy, mutual respect, and simple compassion that I see in the mirror in the eyes of the other patients that have become my friends.
I wonder why I -- someone without a degree, training, or background information -- can make a kid stop trying to hurt themselves by talking to them for ten minutes when professionals can't do it in an hour of restraints, restrictions, protocols, and medications. I wonder why I am then punished, redirected, and put down for being human and reaching out my hand as a fellow human.
To the few clinicians and staff in my life that have truly cared, thank you so much. You have helped me more than you can imagine.
To all the others: a change of attitude is needed in the mental health system. A smile, some understanding, and the words, "I care" can make my day, but learned masks of professionalism, desensitized protocols, and gloved hands of aliens digging into my thighs will only break me more.
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