Name of Facility: Yale New Haven Psychiatric Hospital
Location of Facility (City, State/Province, Country): New Haven, CT, USA
Number of Stars: 1
Description of Experience: I was involuntarily committed for a week, two months before I turned 18. Despite being a college student, I was placed in an adolescent ward with mostly high schoolers. The youngest person there was 13. Group sessions often focused on things which were not relevant to me, like graduation anxiety. Otherwise, they were fairly useless and involved mindfulness (detrimental to my particular dissociative neurodivergence) and show-and-tell. I was told that the adult ward might have groups which were more relevant to me (about money and careers), plus the adults were allowed to drink coffee (which was a part of my daily routine as a college student), but I was not considered adult enough for any of that, because I was not actually 18. My social worker tried to make a case that I should be allowed to attend group with the adults, but it never happened.
The nurses were the worst part of the experience. When I arrived, one insisted upon making conversation with me in a way that made me uncomfortable, including commenting on my scars. He was much larger than me and told me he was ex-military, which exacerbated my discomfort. He also kept reentering my personal space when I backed away, until the point where I was quite literally backed against a wall, and then he told me that my instinctual fighting stance (which I learned in a self-defense class) was unnecessary and that I shouldn’t be so aggressive when he was trying to help me.
The manual I was given said that the nurse’s station could provide anti-itching cream for healing scars. I left my room in the middle of the night once to ask for some, and I was regarded with suspicion and had to insist multiple times that I was attempting to follow the program, including by asking for cream as instructed instead of scratching.
I gave the nurses instructions not to allow my parents to visit me, and they reacted apprehensively and continuously tried to coax me into changing my mind. When my parents tried to visit, they continued to pressure me to see them, telling me that I was “working against my own success” by not saying yes. So I saw them and we got into a shouting match as tends to happen when you don’t have a good relationship with your parents, and then the staff told me I shouldn’t have yelled at them and heavily implied that being so “dysfunctional” would count against me. One tried to be sympathetic and started a conversation about how my dysfunctional relationship with my parents led me to being committed, but when I said my parents were actually not a huge reason for why I was there, she left and was no longer interested.
The way the system works there is that cooperating gains you privileges and allows you to eventually be cleared for release, whereas not cooperating is counted against you. Wake-up was much earlier in the morning than I was used to waking up, and I knew that group was optional, so I slept in on my first day. I was later told, again, that I was “working against my own success” in not abiding by the recommended schedule. I was also told the same thing when I brought up my anxiety about missing school to be in the hospital, since I had already been struggling in my classes before then. During one notable instance, I was told by a member of my care team not to go to group, so we could meet–the fact that I did not attend group was also counted against me, despite the circumstances. I have also always been a huge crier, and I cried non-stop for the first few days that I was there… and I was also consistently reprimanded for it, because it somehow demonstrated that I was not committed to becoming sane.
Cell phones were not allowed there, so I had to use one of the two available (grimy) phones, and only during phone hours, within earshot of a staff member. We were not allowed to make long distance calls, which was a problem because the numbers for my school had a different area code. I pleaded with them to call my school and inform them where I was, but they refused. Phone calls were only supposed to be 15 minutes long but they were lax about it, and I got away with hour+ long calls multiple times. However I was also told I should be more sociable with others and not be preoccupied with my outside life.
At first, meals are standardized and served on trays. There was also pudding and jello to have as a snack. Gaining status by being cooperative allows you to leave the floor to eat in the cafeteria among patients from other wards (although you can only sit with your own ward). The food options there are significantly better and more varied, although not great quality. With status, you also get the option of going outdoors during specific times into a fenced grass courtyard with some deflating balls.
On the ward, there wasn’t a lot to do: some board games, some coloring pages and colored pencils, a small number of books, and a communal tv (media must be approved by staff). You could have certain things as long as somebody from the outside brought them for you, for example snacks, your own clothes, a journal, books, and an mp3 player. Belts, bras, hoodies with strings, and shoes were not allowed. The hospital socks we were required to wear exacerbated my knee condition to a painful degree, but I was told there were no solutions. The air ducts were also incredibly loud and created constant white noise. I used hospital-issued toiletries and had to respond to a staff member knocking on the bathroom door every 15 minutes while I used the dirty shower. I was never given a change of bedding and I was told that somebody could wash my clothes for me “if absolutely necessary,” but was not allowed this courtesy.
I shared a room with another patient, separated by a curtain. This was nice, because my roommate and I could have secret conversations during mandatory room time. The ward required everything you did to either be alone or as part of the group; exclusionary conversations, sharing of personal possessions, or whispering was not allowed. There was also an extremely strict no-contact policy. If you so much as sat next to somebody else when there was another seat available that wasn’t next to anybody, you would be shouted at by the nurses, who sat around, evenly spaced around the ward, always watching and listening and policing your conversation. The only human physical contact I got was when a nurse wordlessly strapped a blood pressure cuff on me during my daily morning vitals check. In group, we were encouraged to bare our souls (minus the reasons why we were there), but outside of group, we were reprimanded for trying to get too buddy-buddy.
The explicit philosophy of this place is that it’s intentionally not supposed to be an enjoyable experience. We were told time and time again by every member of the staff, “you’re not supposed to like being here, you’re supposed to want to do everything you can to be released.” My stay included a non-denominational major holiday, and the ward did nothing at all to celebrate or acknowledge it.
There was also somebody on the ward who was very clearly neurodivergent and disabled, who was constantly dehumanized by the staff. We were told to guard our snacks lest they be stolen and devoured by that person. Sometimes they had episodes which involved yelling and hitting themselves in the head. Because of this, their hands were heavily wrapped at all times. When the episodes would happen, the staff would rush over and pin them down (causing even louder, more distressed screaming) and forcibly drag them back to their room to be in solitary confinement. The nurses said that person had been on the ward for years.
The recovery program emphasized medical treatment, and I was not allowed to leave until my drug treatment plan had been developed and I had been on their drug of choice for several days. I was not given an option in this. Initially, my care team psychiatrist told me I was depressed, but then I said I felt it was more anxiety than depression and received a shrug in return. I had mentioned trauma when I first arrived (which also included having to strip naked in front of a nurse for some reason), but later backtracked and insisted I had no major trauma, and that my problems largely stemmed from school stress, because I felt staff was not equipped to understand the nuances of what I now understand to be c-ptsd and ptsd from lifelong and singularly traumatic events, not to mention the social burden of being non-binary and queer and a person of color.
The combination of an emotionally manipulative and generally incompetent staff, an alienating social environment, and the stripping of my own agency in as many ways as possible left me with a whole range of new triggers and anxieties, and I could barely function when I was thrust into the real world again after pretending non-stop to be happy and well-adjusted and cooperated so I could escape.
Type of Program (inpatient, outpatient, residential, etc.): inpatient
Anything that might have impacted your stay? i.e. being LGBTQ+: non-binary (undisclosed), queer (undisclosed), undiagnosed autistic cousin (undisclosed), PoC, moderate knee pain-related disability, involuntarily committed, weird age circumstances (I was 17 but in college)
Year(s) Your Experience(s) Occurred (i.e. 2015): 2014