What Happens When You Go to the Hospital in a Mental Health Crisis?

Yesterday, I presented to a major hospital ED, in crisis, seeking mental health support. Since my relationship ended, I think of death all the time. The ending gave me death thoughts, and they won’t leave. Death is an image I connect to all the time. Constantly. Now, for example, and earlier. it is when I’m sitting with space or time before me, and when I’m busy with no space. It happens when I’m alone or with others. All the time.

In the last 9 months, I’ve had a suicide attempt, and presented to the ED ten times. I’ve been sectioned. I’ve had paramedics visit my home on four occasions. Police have come for welfare checks three times.

But after my most recent experience and seeing the utter lack of compassion an ED offers someone mentally unwell in Victoria, I wonder if I would return. I wonder if I’d recommend others return. I wonder if this is truly good enough, the best we can do, for humans in peak distress? I wonder if others across the state are living through this. The experience of seeking support for mental health (can be) one of being hated, and moved like an object. It is one of being moved out,and moved on,  before you step in. Of people not stepping up, to see you, and care about your safety. Sometimes being mocked. Hated. There is disdain and suspicion. Like they’re wondering- Why would you come here, telling us about your distress? Do you, kind of, enjoy it?

This last time was one of pure humiliation.

 On my GP’s advice, I go to my local ED. The hospital itself is enormous, a mammoth building, and home to great health care (they say). But it is also, to me, very cruel, indifferent, and uncaring place. My GP feels it is advantageous to attend this hospital, because I’ve been before, and they know my case. As my mental health again reaches crises, he urges me to present there if I feel I might attempt suicide again. And, reluctantly, I follow his advice. But being known to them presents another issue. I’m now “chronic.”

 I am assessed by two clinicians in a total of about 3 minutes. One is a psych nurse who recognises me from my suicide attempt. He has not much curiosity about this situation, and wants to communicate that he is the decision maker here. What happens next is up to him. It’s in no way up to me. Nor is my input or perception relevant now. I come here “all the time.” He doesn’t even smile at me. He implies that I shouldn’t be in the ED. He and I spend about 18 seconds together. “This is a regular occurence now,” he says. “You have an appointment on Monday at the clinic.” (It’s Saturday afternoon). I ask if I should see myself out. He nods. I have been assessed.

The mental health system is all about labels. And I have been given a label, “attention-seeking.” I think many of us have this label, if we meet basic criteria. I am a female and I have had a suicide attempt. Yet I return. Still presenting to the ED. The notion is that I should be better. I should be healed up. I shouldn’t be wasting their time. I shouldn’t be here at all really – I should probably be dead, maybe, or else why waste so much energy talking about it?

And yet, even after a suicide attempt, an overdose which had me in pain and writhing on a bed with IVs in both arms, four weeks ago, in this same hospital – Something, that seems to me, objectively real –  A real risk. A real mistake. Something “medical” and tangible – to their clinical eyes, I am wanting. I am still not real here, in the sense of a human body worth fighting for. I am only a label. Attention-seeker. Send Home.

Prior to the suicide attempt, my distress reached such levels that I called Lifeline. They called the police. Who sectioned me. Two police arrived at my home, loudly talking at me, and about me, to each other. This felt much more adversarial, and maybe a bit unfair. The police are physically imposing, and I bristled at the aggressive way they handled me, piled me into their car. The tone, the implications. I asked if I could go with a friend, instead, or an uber. They talked amongst themselves, about my “erratic” behaviour. They refused to answer me directly. I overheard them complaining about my presentation. Once in the ED, they handed me over, and I was assessed, and sent home.

My thoughts race to a dark place this time as I trek home from the hospital. I know this isn’t working. I feel the missed marks, the complete disconnect. I blame myself for going to the ED. What did I expect? It’s just moving the pain to a new phase. The pushing away and the hurt. The lack of understanding about what suicidality is (and isn’t) and the way it is something we can’t look at – not in hospitals, not amongst our families. The final taboo.

However, I am luckier than many, in that I do have some people who patch me up. My friend comes over immediately, and offers me groceries. We discuss the ED, and the meanness. I wonder why I wasn’t admitted, which she says was “dodging a bullet.” They would’ve just been mean to me, as they clearly didn’t want me there.

For me there is a recovery phase, one I’m sitting in now, and it’s in this piece, and in this conclusion.

I am writing this now and I am feeling okay. I am alive, and I have a purpose. Recovering from the ED – moving away from it – is a direction, a way, I  follow. I have a way out, because I am not defined by that experience. The very act of writing and reflecting, a time of reframing, shows I am beyond that small room, its assessments, boundaries, definitions, and clinical callousness. Distress can’t be defined and held sometimes, in these institutions. They just make things worse.

I am not broken, and I am not dead. I am alive. I can write. I can think. I am in motion.

Article by Author/s
Vardit Leizer
Vardit is a 39 years old writer and suicide survivor. She likes to write, read, and be in nature. She is passionate about mental-health reform

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