Why Being Institutionalized Isn’t So Bad

Baby Jane was very happy in her crazy world.

When I was committed after my suicide attempt, I remember thinking it was the worst place in the world for me. Sure, I was in a place where I was safe from myself, but I felt that anyone who suffers from depression shouldn’t be locked up with those who suffer from other forms of mental illness. It didn’t make sense to have a suicidal woman sharing a room with an 80-year-old who suffered from severe dementia, was constantly without her pants and thought she was 23 years old. Both then and know, I’m not sure how either one of us was supposed to benefit from the situation and heal, but I guess it was just about containing us in that moment.

The entire time I was in the psych ward, I was not only adamant about the fact that I didn’t belong there, but that I was better than everyone else. I was, of course, delusional, not in my right brain at all and overcome by such intense sadness that it was easier to convince myself that I was better to at least give myself something over the others. And this is me trying to reason it the best I can, and probably failing at doing so.

It wasn’t until my last day in the hospital that I realized how safe it was inside those walls. The world had been shut out from me and I was free from everything. I was no better than the patients with whom I shared that space. We were, at least in there, complete equals no matter what we had done the day before we arrived or what we do the day after we left.

When I have days now that hover closely to way I felt the morning I tried to end my life, I think back to the way I felt in the psych ward. I find myself longing for it. I wish I could go back there with a clearer head and truly appreciate it for what it had to offer me: escape from it all. There is no “have to” inside those walls and although they’ll question your desire to get better if you don’t change or shower for over a week, you still don’t “have to.” You are, compared to the busy world in which we live most of the time, free.

Here are six reasons why some days I’d like to be locked up again.


Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

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    • L

      *hug* hopefully no more of those super lows for you Amanda.

    • Jenn

      So true Amanda! Having suffered from low-grade depression with periods of more severe depression my whole life I can relate! I remember when Catherine Zeta-Jones announced that she suffered from depression and had checked herself into an “institution” to deal with it (let’s face it, the institution she went to was not out of One Flew over the Cuckcoo’s Nest), I thought to myself how nice for her that she can afford to take a break from her life to cope. During my worst periods the idea of giving over to it and being hospitalized seemed like it would be such a relief. Not in a romanticized way but just that some days brushing my teeth seemed so daunting. I never did, I did call in sick when I could get away with it but mostly just trudged along.

      Now just to qualify the above, I am not criticizing Zeta-Jones for coming out with her struggles at all! Discourse and honesty on the subject is crucial for all of us to come to terms with this and to understand we are not alone. I just truly envied her options.

    • Jennifer

      Thank you for posting this! I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety for years, and people who had no idea what I was going through assumed I was completely out of my gourd when I expressed the desire to be locked up for all of the reasons you’ve mentioned. I nearly checked myself into an in-patient facility (that several of my friends have been admitted to over the years) last summer when my issues hit an all-time low, but ended up having brain surgery (SURPRISE!) instead, which was like a little vacation all on its own. I think the stigma surrounding institutionalization needs to evaporate yesterday; everyone I know who’s ever been on an in-patient unit is ultimately far better for it, whether or not they were there against their will.

    • EmJ

      Thankyou Amanda. I read everything you write and this is the first time I’ve commented. I could have written this (if I could write eloquently). I admitted myself once, when I was 17. Partly because I was scared, and mostly for all the reasons you listed. It was an adolescent ward so it was a little different. It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience of my life, but it was what I needed, and it was nice to just escape everything for a while. Until I got back and my ‘best friend’ had told everyone.

    • Suze

      All I could think as I read this article was “No, no, no!” I’m glad that you have such an enlightened view of mental institutions, but even with ten years of hindsight, I cannot look back and say that my involuntary psychiatric commitment was the right thing for me. In the end, it was taking charge of my life and refusing to let decisions be made FOR me – apparently the opposite of your experience – that finally opened the door to my recovery / management of my depression. I was treated very poorly and I can honestly say that my psychiatric commitment was the worst period of my entire life.

      • Amanda Chatel

        I have many friends who had experiences that were far more detrimental than they should have been. I guess I was lucky in that regard. It definitely wasn’t a great experience, but it did provide a sense of escape for me — looking back anyway.

        I’m so sorry to hear that you were treated so poorly and it was the worst period of your life. Did you ever confront the hospital or doctors after you left about the shitty care you received?