My Visit and Conversation with the Mentally Ill

Recently, I made a visit to see my family member with my father that is in a local mental hospital due to their inability to function in society. There were several things that were terribly awful about this environment. Just three of them to discuss here include:

1) Poverty of environmental stimulus
2) Treatment between the privileged and non-privileged
3) The neglected individual

When I first walked into this building, I noticed my shock of entering a mental institution in the situation that I was not the one being hospitalized. I have been hospitalized 3 times, and each time I was too worried about my emergency needs to notice these subtle but powerful impacts in the environment and workers.

The ground floor was essentially an entirely staged mockery. I already have a distaste for modern infrastructure development, meaning I despise the uninspiring, square-shaped simplistic walls that limit and confine the human exposure to the complexities of nature. If people do not know, when you are admitted to these hospitals, you are not allowed to go outside.

Which is why it was ever more insulting to walk in and there be leaf engravings on the wallpaper and micro and macroscopic digital pictures of plants on the walls. To a traditionalist, this hospital might look very nice. It certainly had the right colors of cream and green, and detailed imagery. But looking at it was incredibly nonsensical, for if you truly wanted to expose me to nature, you would create a green space and oasis perhaps inside the premises or directly outside in a possibly lovely courtyard where I could visit and rest. The existence of these pictures in the facility was so idiotic given the fact that nature literally existed 5 feet beyond where I was standing that if patients were allowed, they could go outside and look at it and feel it and touch it with their own hands, which is actually scientifically more beneficial to an individual’s mental health.

We came to the area where my family member was residing. And to ease reader’s worries, my family member was doing quite well. Very well, in fact. This was excellent. I had suspected that my family member would be treated with the utmost disrespect, since that is what I have seen done to them in the past.

And upon further conversation with my father and the other members I realized why our family member may have been doing so well, and even better than the other residents of the facility.

My father is obviously a white male. And while I argue against the oppressive nature of the white male’s power I actually still hold the view that the white male is still influential to susceptible individuals. My father is not only white and male, but he is comparably wealthier to typical family members of the mentally ill. And not only that, but he is extremely involved with his family member’s care. He is also assertive, proactive, and considerate towards the individuals of our family member’s care team and I believe this is having immense and somewhat unfair influence on the type of service that we receive.

It is not unfair to us that we get better service, but it is clearly unfair that other members do not get the same treatment because they do not have family members that care about them or money to fight and argue against the establishment. The entire demeanor of the staff  completely changed when they were addressing my family member compared to the others. We were all sitting in the same visitation room where there were at least five other residents near my father, myself, and my family member. I was able to observe how their treatment differed between individuals. The staff welcomed my family member with a smiling face and warm vocal tones, while the others they scolded and ordered around and barely listened to their needs.

This absolutely disgusted me. How dare staff members, who specifically chose a job and industry to provide care to individuals, not actually give care to their clients out of genuine respect but through superficial reward? My father explained that he made visits to the facility regularly, albeit randomly. If you know anything about behaviorism and positive reinforcement in psychology, then you know that you will have a better chance of succeeding to get the desired behavior by randomly giving positive reinforcement. In this case, I believe the positive reinforcement of his visits creates an effect of the staff to be continuously on top of the family member’s care because they do not know when he will come by to check on them.

While I was visiting my family member, I was sitting beside another resident. Since I am naturally very curious and chatty I introduced myself to this individual, I will call her Susan. I was observing the treatment of the workers to the patients and Susan was clearly not getting respect from the staff.

Now, obviously, if you are in a mental institution, you cannot just believe everything that a patient tells you. These people are out of their minds. But I do not use that to discriminate that they have needs like a healthy minded individual does. So I listened to this woman and asked about her.

Throughout my short twenty minute conversation I heard a lot of anger, disgust, and contempt. Albeit it was all very subdued, like she had almost given up. But not quite, because she was clearly expressing it all. She kept saying how no one in the facility respected her. She kept saying she wanted her personal items. She kept saying she wanted to go outside and call her family. She said all this with a very dead eyed glare in the distance and minimal body movement, almost as though she was talking to a ghost, muttering into the space hoping for someone to catch it than to specifically express these frustrations to a receptive individual who would actually listen to them and take charge, like myself.

Regardless of whether you are a functioning person or not, these are all extremely considerate needs. It makes no fucking sense to me why a person should have to remain stripped of their dignity just because they are mentally ill. I myself experienced many of these same desires and complaints when I stayed at an institution, but luckily I am able minded with plenty of resources that got me out of this depressing cycle. This woman was in her elder years, with graying hair beginning to show and wrinkles around her sorrowful eyes. She was naked under these mandated smocks, discouraged from movement and exercise, which is another scientifically validated treatment to help mental disorders. I might also add that she was a black woman.

It is absolutely disgusting, these facilities. They are degrading and terrible. They do not offer a safe push in the right direction for the mentally ill. Everything I have done now to get me to my strong self goes completely against the protocols of these institutions and facilities.

I refused to acknowledge these workers and ignored them when they tried to say good-bye to me and talk about their Thanksgivings. The fuck do I care about your Thanksgivings when I see how awful of a person you truly are to those in need.

Better inpatient facilities both long term and short term are needed to advance the quality of care of the mentally ill. The inpatient facilities are the nets that catch individuals and are supposed to turn them around to reverse their habits in their regular life. If there is not a network of coordinated care, then these individuals will be lost in the emergency hospitals with little direction to go to for complete healing.

I am in the process of proposing such an institution. If anyone has comments, thoughts, or resources to set up such a structure in St. Louis, please contact me.

2 thoughts on “My Visit and Conversation with the Mentally Ill

  1. Sara,
    We would love to meet your father at the Self Help Center in Affton. We are a consumer/peer run program consisting of multiple support groups, licensed peer specialists, and various resources to help individuals move forward in their recovery from mental illness.

    1. Hi Amy,

      This would be great. I would like to note, however, that my father is not the one mentally ill and that the mentally ill individual is far beyond capability to handle their own recovery on their own.

      I am still interested in the organization and would love to learn more about it.


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