I Learned That Mental Health Policy Must Change

I Was Involuntarily Committed For My Eating Disorder And Learned Mental Health Policy Must Change

In a country that claims we do not have enough public resources to help people with mental illness, why are we using the limited resources we do have on those who don't need them?

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A couple of weeks ago I went through one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. As a person who considers myself a mental health advocate, I thought I knew just about as much as there is to know about mental health policy in the US. I was wrong. And it took a personal nightmare to learn that.

I've struggled with an eating disorder on and off for almost half of my life, cycling through restriction and bingeing and purging behaviors. With big changes and the introduction of new stressors in my life last year, I relapsed and became very sick with what's essentially by-the-book bulimia nervosa.

When I noticed that things had gotten out of hand and I was no longer in control of my behaviors, I did what I thought I was supposed to do and reached out for help. I sought out treatment from a dietitian, therapist, and doctor, and genuinely tried to get better. But if there's one thing I've learned throughout the years, it is that recovery is not a linear process; there are ups and downs and things often get worse before they get better. So when I started seeking out treatment, things did get a bit worse, but I was receiving proper support and care to where things were being managed.

That was, until one really rough night. After a conversation that was really triggering, I took a gross overdose of laxatives and diet pills and had to go to the emergency room for medical attention. At the hospital, they took a history where I told them about my bulimia, the treatment I was receiving, and past mental health treatment I've received including a psychiatric hospitalization for suicidal ideation a little over a year ago. In the process of moving through the ER, I iterated six different times that I had no intention of harming myself. However, I know now that my history of treatment for suicidal ideation and depression override my honesty in talking with different providers at the hospital. Lesson number one: people with mental illness/mental health struggles are only to be judged by their paperwork.

I was hooked up to an IV in the hospital to balance my potassium, sodium, and phosphate levels, and told that in the morning I would talk to the hospital psychiatrist. Later that night, I was moved to the psychiatric ward without consent or notification and told again that the psychiatrist would see me in the morning. In the morning, I was told for the third time that the psychiatrist would see me between 9 am and 12 pm. At 12:30 pm, I learned that the specific hospital I was in actually did not have a psychiatrist at all when two police officers walked into my room, put me in handcuffs, and drove me two hours away to a psychiatric hospital on a 5150, or Involuntary Commitment.

This 5150 essentially means that a person is a danger to themselves or someone else. And in the state of North Carolina, anyone can take out a 5150 on any other person—if a magistrate or judge signs it, the person will be held for at least 72 hours and have a public record. I learned that it's common for bitter spouses to take out 5150's on each other to "get some space" and because Magistrates hardly ever read what's placed in front of them in depth, many people who are no danger to anyone at all have to spend time in a hospital because of this lazy law. In my case, I was not a danger to anyone or myself. I was receiving outpatient treatment and only had minor medical complications.

When I was transferred to the psychiatric hospital two hours away from my home (the law also states that location has no bearing on the facility that is chosen for an involuntarily committed person — the hospital simply goes down a list of facilities and sends the person to the first place that will accept them), my first priority was getting out as soon as possible, not only to attend school, but to attend the outpatient appointments I had set up for the next week. However, because of how packed the psychiatric hospital was and the limited number of resources, it took two days to see a doctor, and three days to see my care coordinator, both of which whose signatures I needed in order to be released. Because of how slowly paperwork moves in these places and the number of patients that have to be processed through the system every day, my 72-hour-hold was a five and a half day stay.

There were a number of other missteps made by both hospitals in this process, and I can only imagine how detrimental they could have been for someone in a more severe situation than me who needed more help. For example, the doctor assigned to me messed up my medication dosing and I was only given a third of my medications for a week. I was also never given a form to legally release information about my care to myself or anyone else so my parents had no idea where I was at first and I was given extremely limited information too.

As an advocate, I've always fought for more comprehensive mental healthcare. However, I never considered the other side of things. What happens when a person is given forced mental healthcare they don't need? Not only was it a traumatic experience for me, but people in my situation only clog up the system more so that those who truly need mental healthcare have limited access to comprehensive resources. There needs to be a change.

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black-and-white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Some Thoughts On Therapy

Almost everyone I know at college is grappling with some sort of mental illness, whether it's depression, anxiety, or just the overwhelming feeling of stress and paranoia that convinces you, that you have both. Needless to say, it's rather talked about an issue that infiltrated high schools and colleges across the world. The question is how do we prevent or solve these mental problems?

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As a teenager, people didn't really seem to know what to say when you said you were depressed. Instead, a look of confusion, come across parents faces and the immediate answer is almost always therapy. Now I have a bittersweet relationship with therapy. I do think it's effective, but I think it also is overrated and overhyped to those who are uneducated about the power of vulnerability and how crippling loneliness can be.

Therapy makes sense for people who are depressed because they mostly feel lonely, so if they have a non-flaky person that they can count on, of course, they are going to like going. It gives them a sense of stability. Talking about anything you are going through, is going to help no matter what. In my opinion, the only difference between talking to a friend and a therapist is the objective/non-judgmental opinion. You can be completely open with someone and know that they won't judge you or look at you differently, which sometimes can make all the difference.

I did see a therapist for a number of months, after my parent's divorce. I loved the woman I went to see, and I always felt better, mentally, like I wasn't carrying around so much on my shoulders, after talking about my problems. However, I had so many questions going into therapy, and I was always looked for a simple solution, instead, every time I got more questions. It was incredibly frustrating. I also found the experience quite mundane.

Although money isn't exactly a problem for my family, I was outraged at the cost of going to see someone and paying for it. My mom loves therapy and has continued to go, ever since she split with my dad. The fact that I was forced into it, might explain my opposition to it. One thing you should know about me is I am incredibly perceptive about human emotions (not to toot my own horn) and so almost every time the therapist spoke I was speaking the same words in my head or out loud (oops).

So, I didn't get much out of the experience, other than just getting a few things off my chest. I had countless long talks with my mom about life, the future, how to deal with feelings, and moving on. For this reason, my mom has always told me to become a therapist, that it is my calling. However, I can't see myself promoting something, that I don't fully support myself.

I want to make it clear, I am not discouraging therapy as a whole, just that sometimes it takes the right person (therapist) to make it work and also you need to be patient and open to the experience. If you don't feel comfortable being vulnerable, you may as well not even bother with it.

I could see myself, giving it another shot. A lot of my friends see a therapist, in college and say its helped them with a lot, in terms of dealing with self-confidence and eating disorders, which is one of the biggest problems for most girls on college campuses.

I believe that therapy will be around for a long time because you can't underestimate the power of human connection and relationships. People will continue to go to therapy if they feel a connection with that person because that is where most joy in life comes from. It comes from relationships and the feeling of having someone listen no matter what. If we talk to friends nowadays, people have difficulty listening because they are busy with their own lives, and therefore you never get a potential solution to something you are going through. Hence, people search for other ways to feel whole or appreciated, aka therapy.

These are my thoughts and I hope you enjoy and give therapy a try one day, just for kicks and giggles. It might work wonders. Hell, what do I know anyway?

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