I reached out for help and was traumatized and humiliated instead

by Jan

Note from AnneMoss Rogers. If you are part of a hospital system, please see Zero Suicide, a model that aims to improve care and outcomes for people at risk of suicide in healthcare systems. Also, take a look at the CAMs care model for compassionate treatment for suicidal patients. Finally, you can reach out to the 741-741 USA crisis text line or USA Prevention Lifeline at 988 if you are in crisis.

It had been an extremely difficult mental health journey leading up to the night of 10/26/23. I had been undergoing therapy with minimal improvement. I felt like I had no short-term or realistic goals established, which compounded my feelings of failure. A series of events aggravated my mental state and my ability to cope. My depression worsened, loss of hope set in, and I had an episode where I could no longer see my future. 

On the morning of October 26, 2023, I experienced disabling anxiety and reached out to my therapist for guidance. He was somewhat aloof and told me he only had seven minutes to spare to assist. I was already feeling like an incredible burden to my family and friends, so his response although well intended, only substantiated those feelings which contributed to my loss of hope. The day progressed as did my emotional status.

I became numb, disassociated, and began having thoughts of suicide

I tried to distract myself until the feelings passed, which was effective only for a short time. 

That evening around 7 pm, I had an altercation with one of my children, that was just enough to tip the scales. I swallowed what I hoped was enough medications to allow me to go to sleep and not wake up. I saw no further reason to live. Once I began to experience physical symptoms, I laid down in bed to let my body succumb and the medication run its course. Minutes later my daughter sent me a text message that was enough to spark a moment of clarity and I realized that I did not want to abandon my family and still wanted to live. 

I drove myself to the hospital and gave them all of the necessary information to treat me both medically and emotionally. I was honest with them about my depression and the fact that this was a suicide attempt, but my feelings had changed and I did not want to die.

Almost immediately, the staff gave each other looks and whispers. I was taken to a room in a far back corner of the emergency room. The room was different than a typical room, as it only had a bed, walls, and a camera mounted on the ceiling. A male tech came in with a chair and sat in the corner of the room.

He obtained my vitals and instructed me to change into a hospital gown. I asked him to leave while I was changing and he said that he had to stay present. I explained to him that I was not a danger to myself, if I were I would have stayed home rather than seek medical treatment.

He said that it was hospital policy and everyone who came in after a suicide attempt had to have a “sitter.” I referred to the camera in the room and commented on it. He said the camera was not even activated and he remained present while I changed into a hospital gown. 

About 30 minutes later, the physician assistant and a nurse came into the room to assess me. However, she never completed a physical assessment of me. She only asked me about the medications I had taken, my psychiatric history, and the reason I had attempted suicide.

Her tone was abrupt and crass, and her mannerisms were anything but therapeutic

Although she treated me like a criminal, she never said that I was being kept on an emergency detention order, or hold. She documented in my medical record that she completed an entire systems review, but never laid a hand on me.

She left the room and the sitter remained. I lay there processing what was happening and the fact that I came seeking medical treatment, which was not congruent with their treatment goals. My heart was racing and my blood pressure at dangerously high levels, and despite my prescription for an as-needed medication to alleviate spikes, I was deprived of even this.

I was freezing and asked for a blanket. The sitter told me I was not allowed to have one because it could be dangerous. I decided that I could lay in a bed in the comfort of my own home, with a blanket, and have access to the medication to treat my blood pressure.  

I removed the blood pressure cuff from my arm and started to get dressed

The male sitter stood and harshly said “What are you doing?!”

I replied that I came in for treatment, brought myself there, and was not getting any treatment, so I was going back home.

He said “You can’t leave!”

I grabbed my belongings and left the room. I heard him yell to the other staff members “23 is leaving!”

I calmly walked out the ambulance bay doors while putting my shoes on. As I approached the end of the drive, a nurse yelled out of the building “You can’t leave, you are a suicide risk!” I proceeded to walk around the building to the emergency room parking lot where my vehicle was parked. It was close to a 10-minute walk and I was never approached or told that I had a legal obligation to remain on the premises. 

I arrived in the very dark parking lot and located my vehicle

I was no more than 15 feet from it when I heard a security officer yell “There she is! Get her!”

I heard footsteps pounding on the pavement and a jingling sound with each rapid gallop. I looked back and two very large men were running full speed toward me. They never identified themselves as security officers. Having a history of trauma as well as a medical history of major back issues, I was in fear that they were going to tackle and injure me as well as a general fear of two large men running full speed at me. 

Once they got to my vehicle, one was on each side and began banging on my passenger and driver side windows yelling, “Get out of the car!” repeatedly.

Their behavior was erratic and again, they never identified themselves or provided any information about me having a legal obligation to stay. There was a car parked in front of me, the adjacent spot was empty. I believed both men were at the sides of my vehicle.

In a shaken state, I carefully and slowly began to reverse my vehicle. As I was checking for clearance and to ensure no one was in the way, I looked at the man outside of my passenger front seat window who had his right hand on his hip. I wondered if he was pulling a gun on me, but never actually saw him do it. After backing up only a few inches, I put my car in drive and pulled through the empty adjacent spot. The men continued yelling and banging on my windows the entire time. I accelerated (not by any means at a dangerous speed) and drove to the parking lot entrance. 

I stopped at the stop sign and checked clearance both ways prior to pulling out. I made my way down the drive and there was a security vehicle parked off to the right side. I believe he had his lights on, but I honestly did not know what he was doing or why.

It being night time, there was no traffic and no vehicles near me. I went around the security vehicle by moving left of the center line and proceeded to the next intersection, where I again stopped at that stop sign. Traffic was clear,  I turned right and proceeded down the exit drive. No one followed me or attempted to stop me. 

When I arrived home, I texted back and forth with my siblings trying to calm myself

About 40 minutes after being home, I heard the doorbell ring and saw City Police officers on my doorbell camera. I answered the door. They politely greeted me and said the hospital had contacted them and requested they check on me. I explained everything to them as well as the reason for my leaving the hospital. They asked if I was safe, stable, and if I was going to try to harm myself. I assured them that I was feeling better and had gone to the hospital for treatment to avoid dying, so no, I was not going to attempt to harm myself. They told me to have a good night and left. 

The following morning, I called the hospital’s patient advocate line and explained what happened. I called in hopes of reporting all of the errors, lack of compassion, and exacerbating actions in order to prevent this from happening to someone else.

Being a clinician myself, I found it twice as heartbreaking to have gone there for support and treatment, and not only was treated like a criminal, but experienced another traumatic situation that merely aggravated everything else I’d been through.

The patient advocate assured me that it would be followed up on and that I would receive a written response within 30 days informing me of how it was handled. I never received anything from them, no follow-up phone calls, and no letter. 

I spent the rest of the weekend with my husband and a friend constructing a safety plan, coping skills, and attainable goals.

The following Monday (5 days later), I arrived for an appointment with my therapist and was bombarded by hospital police who forcibly took me to inpatient behavioral health. I explained to my therapist, and numerous staff members that the purpose of an emergency detention order was to mitigate an immediate safety concern and/or stabilize a patient, not as punishment 5 days later.

Many staff members acknowledged that I was right, but no one did anything to help. The next morning I was assessed by the inpatient psychiatrist who asked numerous questions, was compassionate, and empathetic, ultimately released me, and documented that there were not criteria to keep me on an emergency detention order. 

Nearly three months later

I was attending my first therapy session with a new therapist and when leaving, I noticed I had missed calls and texts from my husband. I called him back right away and he said that a Sheriff had come to our house pounding on the door saying there was a warrant for my arrest.

Having no criminal history, I was shaken, but knew there had to be some mistake. I tried to call the Sheriff back numerous times and didn’t get an answer or return call. I contacted the Sheriff’s office to try to get more information. They advised me to look myself up online, and gave no real information.

When I looked myself up, I only saw an active warrant and the abbreviations for reckless driving. The only conclusion that I could come to, was the night at the hospital back in October. I called the hospital to try to get information and was referred back to the Sheriff’s office. 

I went ahead and contacted an attorney who quickly found out that I was being charged with 2 felonies and a misdemeanor.

Attempted assault with a deadly weapon (my vehicle when driving away), resisting arrest (even though I committed no crime), and criminal reckless driving.

I was devastated as any one of these 3 charges could ruin my career and essentially my life. The lawyer is costing me $15,000 and there is no guarantee that this will be resolved or protect my career. 

I went there in October in a time of great need, and not only did not receive even the most basic of care, but I walked away traumatized with life-altering charges filed against me. For an entity that claims to care about patients and their mental health, and is supposedly hell-bent on my staying to keep me safe, they sure were quick to do the very opposite.

The increase in the level of mental distress this has caused can’t even be described…. As I process all of this, I can’t help but wonder if the charges were filed out of retaliation for my calling the patient advocate…

Where do I go from here?

5 thoughts on “I reached out for help and was traumatized and humiliated instead”

  1. This is so devastating and it is no wonder that people experiencing suicidal thoughts COMPLETE the act of suicide. If you cannot obtain the support that you need, from a hospital and in a respectful and person-centered way, why would one even bother reaching out? As I read your story, I was getting very angry at the injustice of it all and more so with the Sheriff’s Office and the ridiculous charges brought against you. It is absolutely appalling.

    A few months after finding my partner dead by suicide, I was out with my niece food shopping. In my mind I was constantly thinking, “I am going to get her to take me home (I will make an excuse) and then I am going to kill myself.” I was shaking in the supermarket and becoming very disorientated, people around me were appearing as cut-out figure, literally, and everything was akin to looking through a mist. I started feeling like I was going to be sick, my palms were sweating, my brow becoming wet and my gums were becoming very painful as a full-blown migraine descended and everything started to become dark. I felt that if there was a Hell, then this was it. And through it all, I just kept thinking, “You will be dead tonight, you will be dead tonight, you will be dead tonight.”

    I realized that I needed help and so I had my niece drive me to the hospital where I was able to explain to a triage nurse (though I know not how) what was befalling me both physically and mentally. I was politely asked to sit quietly in a chair in the waiting room if I could and she would get someone to see me. About an hour later and yet it felt like an eternity, I was taken through to the psychiatric ward.

    Not knowing how this worked, I was told to remove any jewellery and my belt. My phone was taken from me (Why? I do not know). Then I was led by a Security Guard through a door that had a metal detector surrounding it, into the ward itself. This in itself was confronting. A few questions were asked of me and then I was taken to a quiet room which had a bed and was left to sit there by myself. Now and then a staff member would come to check on me and I was offered a cup of tea and a sandwich. Being left alone was, on hindsight, beneficial as I sat there, head down, crying, crying, crying – and feeling totally lost. If another person had been in the room, I think this would have caused me to clam up.

    Eventually, I was visited by a psychiatrist who asked a lot of questions. They wanted to keep me in overnight but I promised them that I would feel much calmer if I could go back home. They only let me go as my niece said I would stay with her and that if anything bad started up, then she would bring me back in. They told me that if I had to come back or if I just needed to feel safe again, then I would be welcomed and that I would be brought straight through without the need to wait. I was very grateful for their kindnesses.

    Everyone was respectful and treated me for the adult that I am. They did not patronize me or speak to my niece as if I didn’t exist or didn’t have a mind of my own. Overall it was a respectful experience but one tinged with anxiety.

    Surely this is how we should treat people. Sadly, and sometimes dangerously so, hospital staff, security guards and police, well they become so inured to the daily events of their job, that they lose sight of their Clients as people who are hurting. They just now see one-dimensional “Clients” who need to fit into some type of category so that they can be “Managed” as all the boxes are “Ticked.” Personally, I think there needs to be a lot of training in how to deliver a person-centered approach to ALL CLIENTS (as too their families who suffer from the mistreatment of their love ones). This training should be a yearly condition of one’s employment. And any person not honestly able to show Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard and Congruence, they need to be interviewed and, if need be, transferred to a different position where they can do the least amount of damage.

    As you point out, you were suffering and here you are, seeking help and support, only to then receive the negative fruits of their inane actions – those fruits being fear, trauma, fines and a felony record.

    Thank you so very much for sharing your story. If it wasn’t so real, it would make the basis of a good fiction story. But it is real and that is what makes it more poignant, more real , and more important for drawing out the lessons that we need to learn to make the experience better for those who need it.

    Love and hugs to you and yours.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to share your story and thank you for your kind words. “Thank you” doesn’t even feel suffice.
      I’m so sorry for your loss and
      I can’t tell you how much it warms my heart that you had a good supportive experience. You were so brave in walking through those doors to ask for help.

      Hugs to you

  2. I’m so sorry you are going through ALL of this. My son died by suicide after three days inpatient and two days outpatient in a local hospital psych ward. The night he took his life, the second day as an outpatient, his note said in part … ‘N——— Hospital made me jump.’ And I believe him in his frustration to receive proper mental healthcare. He had a prior attempt on his life a year earlier. Went to ER in an ambulance with his wife, and was DISCHARGED THE NEXT DAY. I’m sharing this story to emphasize what you and so many others struggling to find proper mental health providers and treatment go through. These stories are everywhere and lives are being lost because of it. I’m so very sorry for us all, especially our loved ones who are no longer with us. ❤️🙏☮️

    1. Thank you for your validation and for sharing this. I can’t imagine the pain you feel; I’m so sorry for your loss. No one deserves to be treated the way that many are; especially when in search of support in their most vulnerable moments.

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