4th in a series….
The doors are locked from the other side. Plexiglass covers all the windows. Mirrors are polished metal that has been so bent and scratched that the reflected image is a horror. Those with shoes flop down the hallway because the laces were taken away. Flatware is of the flimsiest plastic. It is an environment meant only to prevent damage.
Vacant stares and mumbling are the norm. A full set of teeth is a rarity. Those with bandaged wrists outnumber those without. Crying, wailing, and screaming are routine sounds. You are awakened in the middle of the night and asked a set of questions such as, “Are you having thoughts of harming yourself or others?” Answering with, “I wasn’t until you woke me up,” does not help your cause.
That is the inside of a secure psychiatric facility; our modern day version of the asylum. There was a recent media uproar over the NYC police officer who gave a homeless man a pair of boots. It was later discovered that the man was not homeless. He was “just” mentally ill. Among the comments I saw were that such people should be locked away for their own well being and dignity.
Those who espouse that view do not care about the best interests of the mentally ill. They just want them out of sight. Regardless, it is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. There is no healing in a psychiatric facility. There is a calculated and temporary reduction in the probability of damage. There is no dignity.
There are social workers and nurses and therapists who are entirely sincere and committed in their efforts to help the inmates. Significantly outnumbered, they are reduced to working at the lowest common denominator. As such, we played self esteem bingo. We colored. We did puzzles. Ever do a puzzle with a schizophrenic? I do not advise it. We shared our “wellness plans.” For some, that action plan consisted of getting out of bed the next day. It is one size fits all treatment.
And it helps almost none. Most of the inmates were return visitors. Some had been there several times. That was in a private enterprise institution being paid well. Imagine the treatment and conditions in a state operated facility.
The crux of the problem there was profit. I paid over eight hundred dollars per day to be locked up. The food was vile (I was in the army. I know bad food). The treatment was rudimentary and applied generically. It isn’t the facility’s fault. Their goal is to make money. So, the business model becomes to keep the inmates safe from themselves, bill them, and get a new batch. It was amazing how many patients were held and held and “improved enough to be released” as soon as they had no method of payment.
The greater societal challenge is how to cope with the mentally ill. It costs far more to lock them away than to appropriately treat them. We can comfort ourselves all we want and say we’re doing it for their own good. We’re not. Nobody gets well in a psychiatric facility. If I ever reached that point, I’d rather be on the streets as well.