I’ve seen a few threads on ATS that talk about mental hospitals but have never seen one that deals with this particular subject:
During a brief period in the US, from about the mid-eighties to early nineties, some mental hospitals came up with a great way to make money: falsely
hospitalize teenagers in order to collect the insurance money. How do I know this? Because it happened to me. And it forever changed who I am.
First, THIS ARTICLE
gives some background into the
story that follows – it’s the best I can do to validate that this really happened to me. I’ve never been able to find much information on this
topic (it was more than 20 years ago after all and I suppose not many people really knew, or even cared, this was going on.)
Second, for those of you unfamiliar with the book and movie “Girl Interrupted”, Susan Kaysen (who wrote the book) spent her days at McLean
hospital in Belmont MA (just north of Boston). McLean has a rich and fascinating history and I heard about many “lifers” who lived there during my
stay. I sometimes wondered if there was a sinister force in that place that tried to keep you there…. At any rate, if you’re a history buff like I
am I highly recommend the book “Gracefully Insane: Life and Death Inside America’s Premiere Mental Hospital.”
(check it out at your local library).
So my experience...When I was 14 I had an eating disorder (bulimia), suffered from teen angst and made a piss-poor attempt to commit suicide (we’re
talking taking 10 pills – it was a call for attention, not a serious death wish).
Because of this I went to McLean with my parents on an October day in 1988 and was told that I would stay for a 6-8 week evaluation. That seemed like
a long time, and it would mean I would have a ton of freshman schoolwork to make up, but my parents agreed and I was signed into the hall known as
“Upham 2” (the floor just above the one that Susanna Kaysen lived in during her stay).
Flash forward to 6-8 weeks later and… “oh we’re sorry, you don’t get to LEAVE now. That time was just so we could evaluate you to see if you
should stay longer. And guess what – you should!” Maybe my parents didn’t read the fine print before they signed, or maybe the hospital wasn’t
entirely transparent about what that signature would mean, but either way I would be staying-- for how long they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say. Had
we known it would be nine months – that’s right NINE MONTHS - we might have all raised a ruckus. As it was we figured they were the “experts”
and so dutifully complied.
Now a few things to know that are important to the story:
1) In those days there were no limits on mental health benefits like there are now. The full coverage limit could be exhausted for mental health
expenses as with any other illness.
2) My mother’s insurance policy had a coverage limit of $2 million dollars on me. The day she told me that I nearly fainted because I understood by
then that the policy was all that was standing between me and the door.
3) My parents could not get me out even if they wanted to. Requesting release required signing what was called a “three-day” which meant you would
be evaluated by the hospital staff and if you did not retract the three-day notice before the three days was up, and they determined you were unfit to
leave, they were legally able to commit you (and they threatened to do just that the one time my mother tried to get me out).
4) If you were committed and your insurance ran out you would at that point go to a state mental hospital.
5) There were people who had been on that hall for more than a year. A girl who had recently left had been there for almost three years – basically
her entire teenage life.
6) Everyone who was on this hall was between the ages of 14 and 17, both boys and girls.
Now it’s interesting to note that during my intake exam the nurse who was taking my background information thought I was lying because I had never
drank, done drugs, ran away from home, stayed out all night or had sex. She actually asked me at one point “what are you doing here?” I shrugged.
Good question lady.
Here’s where things get hard for me to talk about because I have spent years of my life wondering if I am inherently screwed up or did they make me
that way during my time there? What I mean is, if I had never gone into that place and been subjected to all the things I was subjected to would I be
this insecure, addicted, volatile, control-freak, suspicious person that I have become? Is this who I really am? Or was I simply a hormonal, confused
adolescent who needed better parenting or maybe just time to get through a very turbulent time in my life? I will never know.
What I do know is I was inundated with medications. According to the doctors I was “bi-polar” (a fact I later learned was NOT true). And being
bi-polar meant I needed medication. LOTS of it. They tried one kind, then another, then another, always adjusting levels. After experiments with older
pharmaceuticals I had the “privilege” of being one of the first citizens of Prozac Nation. Mixed with Lithium for good measure!
I was not allowed to shave my legs without someone watching me. I was not allowed to be around food, or in the kitchen, alone. I was not allowed to go
outside or even leave the hall without supervision (which rarely happened). I had countless psych tests, EKGs and MRIs. I had therapy in a room with
two-way mirrors. I once spent three nights in “the quiet room” - nothing but four white walls and a mattress (I counted the holes in the radiator
to keep from going insane.) I was put in a strait jacket once. I blocked that memory for a long time because I couldn’t handle the memory. Still
Mostly I can remember looking out the metal screens over the windows and trying so hard to remember what it was like “out there”. I wondered if I
would ever get out – I sort of knew I would but then that word “commitment” was always looming overhead, like a terrifying dead-end. “If I cry
too much or say the wrong thing or do something that looks 'crazy' they could put me away forever.” I developed a deep-seated insecurity about my
own autonomy and an inherent mistrust of people, especially authority.
There will always be a special place in my heart for the person who got the funding cut off. After nine months the insurance drew the line and said
they would no longer pay. That is the only reason I got out after nine months. I truly don't know how long I would have stayed had that not happened.
Maybe at that point insurance companies were wiser to the scam, don't know.
I won’t get into my life after McLean. (You can probably guess what an experience like that would do to a person). Suffice it to say I'm just now
coming to grips. It took 15 years before I could trust the psychiatric profession again and seek help on my own terms. I haven’t really talked about
this all that much – people are always incredulous when I tell them - and I have never heard another person who experienced the same thing. So if
anyone has, or can point me to additional information they might have found, I would welcome the company.
Thanks for listening.