I first met Alan Motter last year when he interviewed me for the Introvert/Extrovert Podcast. In the subsequent months, I've spoken with Alan several times about mental strength and our mutual backgrounds in psychology.
Alan, who has a master's degree in developmental psychology, contacted me last week to say he'd been admitted to a psychiatric hospital. And his experience was dreadful.
Coincidentally, May happens to be Mental Health Awareness Month and Alan graciously agreed to share his story as a cautionary tale to other individuals who may be struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems.
While he doesn't want to discourage anyone from going into the hospital if they need help, he wants to spread awareness about how the mental health care system works.
Alan says these are the five most important lessons he learned from being admitted to the psychiatric hospital:
1) Don't Wait Until the Weekend to Get Help
Alan had been feeling like something was wrong for a few weeks, but he wasn't quite sure what was going on. He'd lost a close family friend and then he got the flu.
It seems as though the combination of grief and physical health problems sent him into a tailspin. Even as his physical health began to improve, he remained plagued with panic. By Friday, he decided he needed to go to the emergency room.
"If you wait until it is an emergency on a Friday night at 10 p.m. to get psych help, your only option might be emergency services and that may mean spending time in a psych ward," Alan warns. He says if he had known this, he would have sought help sooner.
2) Emergencies and Non-Emergencies are Treated the Same
"The system is not set up to discriminate between emergencies so everyone goes to the same place, no matter what they came in for," Alan says. Although he made it clear that he had no desire to harm himself or anyone else, he was admitted to the inpatient unit where the hospital staff took the string out of his sweatpants and confiscated all of his possessions.
Some individuals were brought in on hospital gurneys and others were escorted by the police. Regardless of the type of mental health problem, or the severity of someone's symptoms, everyone was brought to the same place and grouped together.
3) A hospital can be a Scary Place
"One woman had a blanket on her head and looked surprisingly like Mother Theresa. She seemed harmless but had a habit of tucking people in while they were sleeping. This turned out to be terrifying since you would wake up to a woman who you did not know only inches from your face and her hands near your neck," Alan says.
He also describes a man who refused to have his vitals taken because he was afraid it would reveal that he was a monster. There were fights that broke out too.
4) You Might Have to Wait Days to See a Doctor
Alan overheard people saying things like, 'I shouldn't be here,' or 'I need to leave.' "There was an immediate competition among the patients because you would not be able to leave without an OK from the psychiatrist," Alan explains. But he says there were so many people and so much paperwork that there had to be a reason to be seen.
Alan finally saw a psychiatrist at 1 a.m. on Sunday. He was prescribed medication to help him sleep around 4 a.m. Just four hours later, he was reassessed by the psychiatrist.
Despite being groggy from the medication and the lack of sleep, he tried to appear coherent enough to convince the psychiatrist he was OK to go home. He was discharged later that morning.
5) There's Help Available
Alan is clear that the hospital is appropriate for people who need 24-hour monitoring. But he wants everyone to know that outpatient help is available.
"It's just that our mental health system is set up like a 9-5 business and everything closes on the weekend so they just cast a big generic net to catch and hold everyone until business hours come back around," he says.
He now has access to therapy and medication but says his hesitation to accept his symptoms forced him to take whatever help was available.
He acknowledges that the situation could have been avoided if he would have sought help sooner. Rather than wait until the weekend, a doctor or mental health professional could have provided assistance during normal business hours.
How to Get Help
Mental health problems may come out of the blue or they may arise due to difficulty managing stress or trouble dealing with a life event. Symptoms may range from changes in appetite and sleep to physical problems, such as headaches and stomachaches.
If you think you may be experiencing a mental health issue, talk to your doctor or seek help from a mental health professional. Treatment may include therapy, medication, or a combination of the two.
Alan's committed to reducing the stigma attached to mental health so other people don't hesitate to seek help.If you're experiencing a mental health crisis, please go to your local emergency room. And keep in mind that not all psychiatric hospitals are the same.