Is it really best to force someone into the hospital when they are suicidal? Do suicidal feelings plus “risk factors” really mean professionals can predict whether someone might try to kill themselves? And are suicidal feelings the symptom of a treatable illness that should include medication prescription?
I was locked up at San Francisco General Hospital’s psychiatric emergency ward because confinement was considered necessary to protect me from suicide. But when I was forcibly tied down, locked in an isolation cell, threatened with being strip-searched, kept behind barred hospital windows for months and subjected to degrading treatment, it was the hospital that I needed protection from – not my own feelings.
While people are not always mistreated at inpatient units like I was in the United States, the harm done to me in the name of care is a too-common tragedy. Even if some patients feel grateful for being brought into treatment against their will, and even if we recognize a diversity of experience in hospitals, the question remains: Is the possibility of harming people like I was harmed worth the risk? Would society tolerate any other medical intervention with such clear possibility of devastating harm, with such a high record of iatrogenic trauma? Shouldn’t we be looking for other approaches, with less potential for harm, rather than just accepting routine institutional violence?