Throw Open the Doors

Let’s throw open the locked doors of inpatient psychiatry and show the general public how we’re being treated.  If they knew what was going on, do you think they’d tolerate it?

Yesterday I had the splendid opportunity to tape a guest spot on Dr. Peter Breggin’s radio show.  It will be aired Monday, January 23, at 5:00 p.m. on  Thereafter it will be archived and available on-line for so long as the web shall last.

Dr. Breggin talked about his experience as an 18-year-old undergraduate at Harvard, where he organized and coordinated a student visitation program at a state mental hospital.  That’s some pretty heavy lifting for a teenager.  He described how the student volunteers would come away from their three-hour shifts feeling sick and headachy.  Inpatient hospitalization is sickening; I should know.

I experienced inpatient psychiatric hospitalization in Syracuse, NY, at Community General Hospital; SUNY Upstate Medical Center, a teaching hospital; St. Joseph’s Hospital, a Catholic hospital; Benjamin Rush Center (later Four Winds), a private hospital; Hutchings Psychiatric Center, a state hospital; CPEP, New York State’s Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program; and, in Bethesda, at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).  In other words, I’ve pretty much experienced every kind of inpatient psychiatric hospitalization that there is, and I’m here to tell you that it’s awful.

In the community hospital, the only treatments were drugs and shock “therapy.”  There were no groups or individual talk therapy.  About half the patients were getting shock treatment; it was even being used on a man who had alcoholism.  The patients who weren’t getting shock treatments would sit up nights with the patients who would be shocked in the morning because those patients were so anxious that they couldn’t sleep.

At the teaching hospital, I was put in isolation because I had PMS (premenstrual syndrome).  Natural body functions were considered pathological.  During a hospitalization several decades later, I went out on pass.  Not having enough money for a taxi, I had a long walk back to the hospital, which triggered an agonizing episode of sciatic pain.  The doctor refused to prescribe anything for the pain because, he noted, he had diagnosed me with borderline personality disorder and my claim of sciatic pain was just a bid for attention.  There was no medical examination of the source of my pain.

In the Catholic hospital, there were no spiritual services for psychiatric patients.  The psyche is both the mind and the spirit.   The doctors were medicating the brains of troubled people but the priest/chaplains who provided spiritual care would not go behind the locked doors of the psychiatric unit.  At services in the chapel, psychiatric patients were easily identified because we were the only people who wore street cloths and a hospital ID bracelet.  One priest sharply asked me, “Where is your attendant?”  In his world, psych patients weren’t allowed out alone even if all they were experiencing was really, really bad depression.  Likewise, there were no bibles available on the psychiatric unit.  God wasn’t allowed to help.

In the private hospital, they were much more selective about which doctors were allowed to admit patients, consequently, the doctors were better and the level of care was better.  They were open to innovative approaches to treatment.  In addition to very well-run group therapy, there were therapeutic groups in art and music, as well as straightforward educational groups.  We were not treated as “psychiatric patients”; we were treated as valued customers.  Administrators knew that patients had their choice of hospitals and they wanted us to have such good treatment that we’d come back to them if repeat hospitalizations were needed.  Sometimes capitalism works really, really well.

The state hospital was dreadful.  Nurses would whisper to me, “You don’t belong here” as if there were sentient beings who walked upright and did belong there.  Nothing was done.  Plain and simple, there were no therapeutic or social activities.  Activities were listed on the program but for some reason they never took place.  For some activities, you had to have a doctor’s order and you might go for a week without seeing your doctor.  The state hospital was a holding zone, not a treatment center.

So, okay, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.  Nine years after my last inpatient psychiatric hospitalization it still gets me upset.  Instead of writing anymore about my experiences I want to read about yours.  Do you have bad memories of your hospitalization?  After medical hospitalization people often have bad memories of being sick and in pain; they don’t have bad memories about human mistreatment—that occurs on inpatient psychiatry.

If you want to share your stories about the ugliness of your treatment on inpatient psychiatry, please send them either to the Comments section of this blog, or to my email,

We need to put a stop to the abuse that happens every day behind the locked doors of inpatient psychiatry.  Gandhi said that the way to end injustice is to make it visible.  Come on, my fellow sufferers, let’s show the average citizen—the guy next door, the grocery store clerk, your friends and relatives—what is actually going on.  Let’s throw open the locked doors of inpatient psychiatry and show the general public how we’re being treated.  If they knew what was going on, do you think they’d tolerate it?

Send me your stories and I’ll publish them on-line.  If you feel you can’t write well enough then send me your phone number.  I’ll call, you can tell me your story and I’ll write it up.  Let’s get the truth out there on line.

Contact me at


About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
This entry was posted in Benjamin Rush Center, Community General Hospital, CPEP, Hutchings Psychiatric Center, Inpatient psychiatry, mental illness, NYS Office of Mental Health, psychiatric patient, psychiatrist, St. Joseph's Hospital, Unit 3-6, Upstate Medical Center and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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