When I was 20, I faced involuntary outpatient commitment, which is an encrypted way of saying court ordered forced psychiatric drugging. My life had 2 possible paths before me. One was freedom to live my life and learn from my struggles and the other was mental health treatment. It was 2001 and I didn’t know much about the mental health system except that I didn’t trust it.
I sat in a psychiatrists office at Four Winds hospital in Katonah, New York, where I was told I could find a place to be discharged to or go to court against two doctors and a judge to decide that I’d be mandated to take the psychiatric pharmaceuticals that had already caused me panic attacks, non stop eating, obsessive compulsive behaviors, strange thoughts and violent actions. Four Winds was a better hospital than most, the kind with a yard you can walk around in, decent meals, an exercise room and a nice looking campus with trees, fields, frogs and bunny rabbits.
I was a hopeful girl with a gleam in my eye and I had big dreams-dreams of sharing my words and art so big I’d transported them in boxes too heavy for me to lift from Amherst, Massachusetts to Brooklyn, New York by Amtrak. When my mom heard the news that I’d be put on trial to decide if I’d be forced drugged (involuntarily committed as an outpatient) or locked in a state hospital, her maternal instinct led her to drive up to get me. On the drive home she was shaking and so anxious I was scared to be in the car with her. A lot of things about the world I was living in were deeply wrong. A girl who already felt such supreme purpose she would sacrifice anything for her dreams and ideals was nearly robbed of her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness by psychiatry and the systems of law that support it.
Sure, I had grandiose thoughts, anxieties, fears, and overwhelming bubbling up of sadness at times. I had anger, hope, excitement, vision and all of the tears, smiles and love that make a full life as a full person.
What you should know is that even the psychiatrist and therapists at Four Winds didn’t think I needed to be force drugged. After I honestly answered his standard questions, the psychiatrist there said these words exactly, “When in Rome, do as the Romans. Get your ass to a freaking ashram.” He flat out acknowledged I was in the wrong place with the wrong system of thought, medicine, belief and practice for me. Yet the law allowed him to do 2 things: have me force drugged or find another place for me. If there was no easy and obvious place to send me, forced treatment would be inflicted on me-not because any doctor thought I needed it, but because there was no category for me, no protocol that suited my situation.
And let me tell you from having been in that hospital and spoken to many thousands of people in a similar place, my situation or “category” was not uncommon. There were and are many people who have been traumatized, misunderstood, labeled mentally ill and force drugged, not because they have an illness of any sort, but because someone has a job and only 2 legal options-lock them up or have them involuntarily committed as an outpatient.
I tell you this story on this day because the bill rushed through the House of Representatives by voice vote last week to patch Medicare regulations includes a highly controversial provision that has nothing to do with Medicare, and that would subject people in crisis to forced treatment. This bill is designed for people like me (and you, and any of us). It is designed so if you are at a low spot or “freak out,” or those around you think you are crazy for any reason, you can be court ordered to take a life threatening drug. You can be forced to have a mind imprisoned in shackles you would never choose. You can be forced to take a pharmaceutical that will make you die an average of 20 years early, likely give you diabetes and make you anxious, suicidal, homicidal, exhausted, weak, stupid, impotent and/or dysfunctional.
The drug you would be forced to take would likely be a neuroleptic, also known as a major tranquilizer like Zyprexa, Seroquel or Risperdal and would be hard to withdraw from. You would end up dependent on it. And all of this would be mandated by law. You’d have no say. You couldn’t wake up one day and say “Fuck it. I’m done with this,” for the withdrawal symptoms would be too severe and you’d end up being court ordered to take even more “medication” when the authorities found out, which they would, by doing regular blood tests to check your levels.
Your health would decline and your will would decrease so it would become harder and harder to fight for your own freedom or garner resources and supports, if possible at all. Even if, by some miracle, you were able to lift the order, you’d be chemically dependent on a drug that is difficult to withdraw from, with few available resources to do so.
I work with people coming off these drugs, or who hope to someday, who were never involuntarily committed, and it’s terribly hard even for them. It was also terribly hard for me.
I wasn’t sent to a psychiatric hospital, where I was force drugged, because my family had no other options. They had resources and plenty of choices, and were well educated, but chose psychiatric “care” because they perceived it to be the safest and most trustworthy form of care for me. They thought it was the only legitimate form of medicine in a crisis. And at a moment of panic, everyone knows the 3 digits.
Preventing involuntary outpatient commitment can be tackled at different levels, all of which change the cultural narratives we hear. Most states already have IOC laws that go by different names in each state. We need to address the laws, public perception, and most of all to equate funding for non-violent alternatives since we all know, deep down, medicine should not be harmful, damaging or life destroying. It should not isolate us, make us permanently numb, sick, or stupid and it certainly should not make us die early or become violent or suicidal, all of which psychiatric pharmaceuticals do regularly.
There are many types of medicine and support that are gentle, restorative, nourishing, healthy, holistic and based around love, connection and community. These are the ones that have allowed me and so many other trauma survivors to rebuild our lives and take back our voice. They have provided us with opportunities to give back to the world in ways we’d always dreamed possible and to inspire others. They have lifted us up out of oppression, at times, and healed us rather than brought us deeper into despair and disconnection. Why aren’t our dollars going towards those? Why aren’t our laws protecting those? Why isn’t there funding to research those?
Please share this and other articles about the many dangers of and beneficial alternatives to involuntary outpatient commitment (aka court ordered psychiatric drugging) far and wide.