In December of 2016, I visited my local urgent care/emergency center. I told them I was concerned about my weight, as I had lost a decent number of pounds over the last few weeks. I expected my blood to be tested, some questions, and then to leave after a few hours with a plan to manage my weight issues.
Instead, I was hospitalized for two days and one night got charged thousands of dollars, and was not allowed to pull myself out of any of it. Why? Because they wrote down that I was suffering from suicidal ideation.
Now, you might be thinking, okay, she had to have said something about being suicidal. In that case, you would be both right and wrong. However, let me start from the beginning.
Early in the year, I was over at Chapman University. I was a freshman with an undecided major that was thousands of miles away from home. Plenty of people told me not to go, that I would end up coming home and regret the choice… and hey, turns out they were right.
Except, they weren’t right on the reasons. They claimed homesickness would bring me back to Ohio, my home state, but that wasn’t the reason at all. Actually, it was that I was diagnosed with social anxiety and that I was told I needed to get tested for ADHD (which I would later get a positive diagnosis for), which I couldn’t do there.
And, of course, having social anxiety and undiagnosed ADHD doesn’t mix well for a successful semester. I started sinking, and no one was willing to pull me up, and after weeks of sleeping through classes, I started to feel like it wasn’t ever going to get better. My friend caught on, and after one phone call was made, my mom was on the way to Cali to bring me home.
That, in itself, was depressing. I mean, everyone told me I was going to come back, and there I was. My mom said I wasn’t mature enough for school, and that maybe it just wasn’t right for me. My dad said that if I didn’t go back to school, I would be stuck with a shitty job for the rest of my life.
So, to prove my parents wrong (yet again), I went and saw a doctor. I was put on new meds, and things actually started looking up. I was less anxious, I could focus, and I thought that just maybe, maybe my life wouldn’t be shit.
Turns out, my mind loves to flip between “you’re going to have a great life” and “you’ll never amount to anything” on a constant basis. ADHD medication doesn’t help.
I began thinking yet again that my life meant nothing. That everything I was doing, everything I was working hard for, was a completely pointless effort. My friends told me I needed help, and hey, I agreed with them. I was having thoughts about suicide every now and again, and I knew it needed to stop.
Then, came the weight problem. I later learned it was linked to my ADHD meds, but I hadn’t known it then. I’ve been underweight all my life, so seeing my weight drop was concerning. That’s why I decided to make an urgent care trip. I wanted to see what was going on, figure out how to fix it, then go upon my way.
When I was brought behind the door, they asked me the typical questions. What can we do for you today? How are you feeling? Do you have thoughts of hurting yourself? The third one was what got me. As I was sitting in the chair, I had to think about it. Eventually, I told the man that I had thoughts in the past.
Now, before you go and say that’s why you were admitted, stupid, pay attention. I said in the past. When someone is admitted for suicidal ideation, it is because they are currently a threat to themselves. When I walked into that hospital, I was not in a dangerous state of mind. Sure, I was nervous as hell, but I had no plans of killing myself.
I made that very clear, or at least, I tried to. When they asked about a plan, I said I didn’t have one. Yes, I thought about myself dying in a multitude of situations before, but I never had a clear cut plan. Not ever. Even at Chapman, I never had that.
So I was brought into a room, and told I had to give them all of my things. When I say all, I mean all. They took my shoes, my clothes, my purse. I asked them why, and they just said it was a safety thing. That’s it. There wasn’t room for argument. They let me keep my phone, and so I just sat there, playing on it while I waited for doctors to show up.
When one finally came in, I explained the weight thing. They asked about my thoughts again, and when they asked me if I had them right then, I said not really. That was pretty much it. They took my blood, told me to pee in a cup for them, and that was it.
Hours and hours passed. I asked them what was going on, and they said they didn’t know. I was there for nearly four hours before they came in, saying they were transporting me to a mental health facility.
My dad had been waiting for me in the waiting room for a couple of hours, and they brought him back. Despite me being eighteen at the time, they told him everything and told me nothing. When he came into the room, he told me they had me on suicide watch.
It was midnight. I got to the hospital at seven. They never told me that’s what they were doing.
The first thing I did was cry. I didn’t understand why they were doing what they were doing. I was there for a weight problem, which, they never even brought up again. I was also on my period, so like… you know. I was emotional.
I didn’t learn about my bloodwork until around one. It was normal.
My mom eventually came, and it was just a wreck. I was pretty much freaking out on my phone the entire time, wishing I could leave.
As time passed, I realized how weird everything was. For one, the room I was in was not suicide-proof. There was a corded phone, my hospital gown had drawstrings, and there was a TV plugged in. Yet, I was not allowed to plug in my phone, and I was not allowed to wear my own hoodie (it was freezing).
Another thing was the fact there was no psychiatric evaluation. They went right from my spare words to a mental health facility. They barely talked to me, but they figured my thoughts in the past were enough.
I went to bed, dreading the morning. I cried for most of the night.
When I woke up, I was told that I was being moved to a place for evaluation. They said I would be transported by ambulance, which, I wasn’t really excited for. It seemed like so much for past suicidal thoughts. An ambulance ride? Another hospital? I just wanted to know about my weight.
A couple of hours later, I was brought into the ambulance. A pretty cute paramedic sat with me, making me answer a few questions I didn’t mind answering. Then, he got to the big one. Do you know why you’re in here? I said that I told them that I’d had suicidal thoughts in the past. He said no. He said they put me there because I told them I planned on swallowing a bottle of Tylenol.
What the actual fuck?
Never in our conversations did Tylenol come up. I don’t even take that stuff. I’m an Ibuprofen kind of girl. So I was sitting in the back of an ambulance for a reason that never came out of my mouth. No wonder nothing made sense.
Without many words, I was thrown behind a glass door that remained locked. As I sat down, I got the privilege of watching a girl high on drugs walk into walls and have trouble sitting. The people at the desk let her. It was clear that what she was doing would hurt her, but they barely did anything. Not until she fell. When she did, they pulled her into a room and restrained her.
I balled. The people behind the desk avoided me at all costs, as if staring at me for a minor second would’ve turned them into stone. I actually began panicking, full-on hyperventilating, and I was told that if I didn’t calm down, it would look bad for me.
They threatened me. I was freaking out, and instead of helping me, talking me through it, they told me it would get me locked up.
I stayed in that hospital for ten hours. I paced, cried, and sat around isolated for most of it. I spoke to two doctors, who both agreed that there was no reason for me to be there. When one of them looked at my paperwork, they actually laughed. They told me that the hospital I had been at before had no evidence that I was suffering from suicidal ideation, and that they had no reason to bring me to them.
When I finally got to the third doctor, the last I would speak to, I brought up the weight. She brought up the Tylenol, which my mother now believed I said. My own parents didn’t trust me, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would be locked away. My dad said that maybe I wasn’t in my right mind when I said it. But no, I never said it. I know I didn’t. I never had a plan.
The woman seemed to realize it. She told me to stop taking the ADHD pills. That’s it. They let me go and told me that if I ever felt suicidal, to call their hotline.
I figured that would be the end of it. Wrong.
A few weeks later, I got the bills. I was charged thousands of dollars for not only going to the urgent care, but for the evaluation that could barely be considered one, as well as the ambulance ride.
I am being billed for thousands over what I would easily call the most horrifying experience in my life.
Up until that point, I had a strong belief in the mental health system. I thought things were getting better, but through that experience, I was shown that I was wrong. No one listened to me, no one helped me, and every step I went through had some type of flaw.
I also decided that if I ever felt suicidal again, there was no way I was walking into a hospital.
That is messed up. If you’re suffering from suicidal thoughts, when you go into a hospital, they should be ready to help you. They should not install a bunch of fear inside you, and make it even worse. They should try and help you, attempt to figure out what’s wrong, then make a plan that you’re entirely aware of.
When I got home, I went on my Twitter. I was surprised to find that I wasn’t the only one with a hospital horror story. It made my insides twist. What if someone is actually ready to hurt themselves, but they know the process? They know they won’t receive the proper help they need, and that they’ll be charged thousands for it? It could have dangerous consequences.
Mental health assistance has to change. Our system is broken. If we want the rate of suicide to drop, we have to be ready to help in an efficient and kind way. Lying to officials, putting possible suicidal patients in a danger environment, and not letting them have a word in their treatment is not the way to do it. It might even be the reason why some aren’t with us today, and that’s truly fucked up.