When someone thinks of a mental hospital often they may picture straight jackets, padded rooms or maybe medicine cocktails and electroshock therapy. But these stereotypes couldn’t be further from the truth. With September being National Suicide Awareness Month, I think it’s important to spread awareness not only on the issue, but on the fact that it is okay to ask for help.
Just as mental institutions come with stereotypes, patients in these institutions often are perceived as certifiably insane and most certainly not normal. In reality, while there may be a few oddballs every so often, a majority of the patients are just like you and me. In fact, I’ve been a patient in a mental hospital twice.
I struggled severely with suicidal thoughts in high school. I participated in self-harm and tried twice to end my life. My parents thought it was best to check me into a mental health facility in my hometown. I was very nervous and unsure of how the experience would be. The days are structured, but there is also quite a bit of downtime. We would spend time doing various therapeutic exercises, and we would see a doctor who would determine if we needed medication as a part of our treatment.
For me personally, medication was a huge part of my recovery. For a very long time, nothing was really working. I felt as if I was testing every medicine in the book. While receiving treatment, I was able to find the medicine and dosage that works for me, and I am still on the same medication to this day. Through my stay at the mental health facility, I was able to find the medication that worked for me and I have not self-harmed or had major suicidal thoughts in a little over three years. And from that time of pain and struggle has come numerous successes. I am a semester away from a college degree, have been able to participate in a dream internship and have been able to gain wonderful experience contributing to “The Bison” for these past couple years. I am more than my struggles, but the treatment I received helped get me to where I am today.
One of my dear childhood friends and neighbors was hospitalized twice for an entire year between her two hospitalizations. She struggled severely with bulimia and anorexia and sought treatment in a mental health facility. She shares some of her experiences while being hospitalized.
“My experience being in the mental health facility was extremely helpful. Even though I was in a unit specifically focused on eating disorders, I learned that my eating disorder stemmed from other disorders as well and was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and General Anxiety Disorder, and was able to find the right medication and dosage to help with those illnesses,” source said.
Knowing that she was not alone and other girls share her struggle really encouraged my friend during her treatment.
“Being with 14 other girls that were around my age and working through my experiences with girls who’ve had similar experiences was so encouraging to me,” source said.
Even though my friend’s first mental health experience was helpful, she still struggled and eventually relapsed, leading to her second hospitalization. This relapse really affected her mentality going into treatment the second time and in turn, affected her treatment.
“During my first hospitalization, I went in optimistic, accepting that I needed help. The second time around however, I didn’t have that same mentality. I actually stayed in treatment longer the second time. I felt like a complete failure because of my relapse. But, through my treatment I realized, that relapse is a part of recovery and that in no means does relapsing mean I’m incurable,” source said.
Even though her second treatment experience got off to a rocky start, during this particular stent of treatment she realized that these experiences do not have to define her but that she could be successful. She learned there was a light at the end of the tunnel.
“During my second stay, two of my therapists were recovering from eating disorders as well. Seeing these two ladies with PHDs admit to struggling with the same issues I do showed me that I could overcome my struggles and still lead a successful life despite these issues I’ve faced,” source said.
My friend certainly proved that to be true in the years to come since her time in treatment. Two years ago, she graduated with an interdisciplinary degree in human sciences with a concentration in nutrition and addictive disorders. Currently, she is working on her masters in medicine and is in the process of applying to medical school.
Don’t be discouraged or ashamed to seek help if you are struggling. Seeking help from mental health facilities should be treated no differently than patients who are so physically ill that they have to stay in the hospital. As you can see from my friend and I’s testimonies, “ordinary people” can struggle with these issues and come out of it successful.