On the second day of my detainment strange things began to be revealed.
I had a rough sleep my first night. I had been removed from my home and family over idle threats uttered on Twitter, which are covered under free speech and protected as such. Threats uttered out of frustration, bitterness or despair are considered idle and the State had no lawful reason to detain me.
Imagine someone getting frustrated with their job and exclaiming ‘One day I’d like to burn this place to the ground.’ Later on that day they’re dragged off to be detained for a week of psychological analysis. They are branded dangerous and required to be medicated. It creates severe problems with a free, open and democratic society. Your friends, family and co-workers effectively become the ‘thought police’ as described in 1984. Idle threats become reclassified as a thought crime. No police officers, doctors, nurses, judges or politicians ever need threaten your freedom of speech, your social group does it for you.
Criminalizing idle threats through social groups, whether in the real world or online, will be the end of free speech. It creates a precedent where anyone who vocalizes their feelings of dissent at an unfair system, perverted to benefit those in positions of power, can be imprisoned for their words.
This same kind of criminalization of thought and emotion already exists within the psychiatric system. During my time inside I met other people who had been remanded into the custody of a doctor for similar cases. Simply telling an ex-boyfriend she was so upset over their sudden break up she felt like dying was enough to get one girl I met medicated into oblivion. I’ll call her Sunny. Sunny doesn’t even remember the week she was admitted to the ward due to being so heavily medicated. She’s been locked into the system and her mind ever since. Most days she can barely raise her voice above a whisper.
An intelligent young girl, a university graduate working towards a new career, living in her own apartment with her own vehicle… a life obliterated by a single utterance. An idle threat spoken in anger, bitterness, frustration and despair over a break up, misused by someone who had already dissolved their relationship. That misuse ended with Sunny being remanded into semi-permanent custody where she’s not even allowed to request a second opinion from another doctor.
During her stay, while trying to deal with her existing issues, Sunny made friends on the ward. Two of these friends would later go on to end their lives. Sunny is expected to mentally and emotionally heal in a situation where she’s been told something is wrong with her emotions, then she’s denied the ability to grieve the loss of her friends. To me, this illustrates the kind of endemic psychosis present in the system.
I’ll repeat what I said before in regards to all the cops, nurses and doctors I met during my detainment/vacation. All good people. I felt no malicious intent from any of them, aside from the lawyer for the hospital. Him, and others of his ilk, are perfectly comfortable with being malicious for money. They are employed by a system designed to confer authority over their fellow man. It doesn’t matter if the reason for someone being remanded into their authority is lawful or not.
Before I go on further, I’d like to talk a little about what I observed on the ward.
In regards to the ward itself, the environment they’ve created to allow people to heal is so cut off from anything natural or organic its astounding. Not even a single plastic plant breaks the grey monotony. Everything is neutral-toned, old, and the ceiling is covered with rust spots from ancient leaks. The facility is kept clean, but the beds are small, plastic-lined and uncomfortable. The food is largely atrocious, with most meals being barely recognizable as food. The soup was good though, probably the most nutritious item on the menu. Other than that, for breakfast you might find a single slice of bread and a bowl of gruel or dried scrambled eggs that have the consistency of styrofoam. Even clean water is in limited supply. There is a dispenser, but its kept in the nurse’s station. You have to wait until a nurse is available to be able to fill a tiny shotglass with water and ice.
Besides the fact that everything is made of plastic or metal, there are some decorations meant to add depth or levity to the surroundings. Two of them stand out the most in my memory.
The first is a quote from a film actor about how no one hates nurses… unless you’re getting an enema. Why would this be there? Is it some sort of sick joke to remind patients that nurses have the authority to hold them down and perform strange operations against their will? Is the joke supposed to be funny for the nurses or the patients? Perhaps someone in ‘management’ didn’t realize it would be inappropriate to create an adversarial climate between the nurses and their charges. Who ever decided that it would be a good idea to joke about rectally violating patients obviously didn’t put much thought into their message.
The other item that comes to mind is this tree painted onto the wall. It’s supposed to be some sort ‘Tree of Wellness’, but it sends very twisted and ignorant messages. For starters, the tree looks like it’s dying or it’s late fall and losing its leaves. The tree only has a single leaf on each branch, which in most cases looked to have separated from the branch and is in the process of falling instead of being still attached. The tree also has labels written next to each leaf to indicate their importance towards being a healthy person. Some of the names of the leaves are ‘confidence,’ ‘success’ and ‘spirituality.’ This is where the symbolism in the tree draws on the assumptions of psychology which turn it from a non-science based on expertise at judging symptoms, into a religion.
In my own understanding, spirituality forms the root of the tree all things spring from, not a branch. A rich man doesn’t have a better chance of being spiritual than a poor man because he’s already obtained success and confidence. If anything, that confidence rooted in non-spiritual ground prevents that person from ever truly questioning their foundation. Spirituality is given lip service by psychologists and psychiatrists. The religious views of patients are to be respected, but largely ignored. This tree represents a very flawed viewpoint that turns the so-called science of psychology into a fundamentally flawed religion. That flawed religion has also evolved its own version of the Inquisition.
Again, let me be clear, I had no problems with the nurses or doctors themselves during my stay on their ward. They followed their orders to the letter and never gave me any issues whatsoever. My purpose in referring to this particular implementation of psychiatry as ‘The Inquisition’ relates to the healing process that is supposed to occur in this place. Healing through interrogation is about as effective as preaching religion to someone you’re torturing. No trust develops. The psychiatrists in charge of the patients are not therapists. From my discussions with the patients, their doctors appear concerned more with diagnosing side effects of the drugs they’re prescribing than addressing the underlying experience of those under their care. Caring for the patient’s mental wellbeing isn’t their job. Their job is to balance out the cornucopia of medication the patient is receiving.
Treating people as a collection of symptoms denies their inner world. It denies the pain they may be experiencing in favor of treating these natural emotional responses purely as a side effect of some underlying disorder. It ignores root causes completely. Perhaps a person has a strong emotional response to a situation that’s arisen in their life they have developed no mental or emotional processes to deal with. Will muting that pain with medication teach them those needed skills? Will it help them deal with similar situations that emerge in the future? Will it stop the triggering of memories associated with those events from being dragged them kicking and screaming back into the light? Of course not. It just masks or veils those issues in favor of squeezing the person back into their lives.
Who’s fault is it that situations like this have arisen? Surprisingly, it’s neither the doctors who practice their flawed religion of pills, nor the nurses who support them. What I see as the main reason for the current state of despair in the mental health system is a lack of adequate funding and a mismanagement of existing funds. Talking to the nurses and patients, I was told that around the turn of the century the system had much better funding. Understand that? Before Newfoundland and Labrador became a ‘have’ province, we had a better mental health care system.
Since coming into our own financially, so much money has been cut from the system that the ratio of patients to nurses has diminished significantly. Nurses in the ward are so overworked that they only have time to do certain necessary tasks. They deliver pills, take blood pressure and fill out paperwork. Their role as therapists in the healing process has been reduced to that of automatons. They’re forced to ask patients disturbing questions like ‘Do you have any thoughts of suicidal or homicidal ideation?’ instead of simply inquiring how people are feeling. Rather than having the time to provide the feelings of security, stability and trust needed for people to heal their mental wounds, they’re reduced to poking and prodding the people under their care. It leaves the whole process resembling a futuristic version of the Spanish Inquisition. Even Inquisitors thought that they were doing their jobs for the good of the souls they were torturing.
Beyond the limitations placed on nurses in their roles as therapists, there is another problem that compounds viewing the 4th floor ward as a place of healing. It’s used as a dumping ground for people with a tendency towards uncontrolled acts of violence and aggression. When I was first admitted, the ward still bore the scars of one such outburst. The patient’s phone had been destroyed by a patient who lost control of himself and began throwing chairs. A long scar marked the window of the nurse’s station where he tried to break through. How are patients supposed to remain calm and heal their wounds when the possiblity of a violence from which they can’t escape intrudes on their peace?
RNC officers are mandated by the Mental Health Act to bring certain types of offenders to the ward for observation and treatment. Once they’ve delivered that person into the care of the nurses and doctors, their obligation towards them ends. As the patients on the ward are the ones who share their living and sleeping space with these violent offenders, it is their peace of mind that is inherently violated by these events. Without a separate place to bring violent offenders, every time one is introduced to the ward the risk of creating an environment toxic to healing is further compounded.
I’m going to split this day into two posts to keep my own timeline of events separate from my observations of the ward. The events of my own life during this time are only used to illustrate the on-going abuse of process. The people who really need help at this point are the patients, doctors, and nurses who are overworked and overburdened by a system that cares nothing for the importance of their often thankless work.