You can’t Backpack through a Mental Hospital Or, Maybe, you can.

During college, while all my friends were backpacking through Europe or studying abroad, I spent my time in and out of psych hospitals. Sure I missed out on some terrific college experiences but I gained an education in a population who are discriminated against and marginalized. I decided I wanted to use my journalism skills and background to end stigma one story at at time. But I want to talk about what you can learn from being in a psych hospital.

You will meet all kinds of people with different diagnosis of different racial, cultural and religious backgrounds and sexualities. Your mind will be opened to what others have experienced but you are all united by mental illness. These illnesses don’t discriminate. Everybody can get them and many will over the course of a lifetime.

If you go to a place where art, writing, drama, music therapy are encouraged and funded, you will learn new tools for self-care. You will learn that creating art is a practice and you don’t have to start off good to tell your story. Your story matters in this fight to end discrimination. Find your medium and begin.

Medication is one way but not the only way. Electroshock, Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, talk therapy are helpful too.

A low dose of medication is preferable, always. High doses can cause zombie-like feelings as well as health problems long-term.

You’re insurance will run out before you are ready to go home. Mental health care is expensive at the critical care level. It is important to follow closely an outpatient care plan such as taking prescribed medications regularly and seeing a therapist. These tools are less expensive than a stay in a mental hospital.

Medication can be expensive. Pharmaceutical companies have scholarships for people who can’t afford their meds. If you are low-income, look into your state’s Medicaid program. You can also buy meds by mail-order through Canada. I’ll talk about this one in a later post. There are also pharmacy discount cards like GoodRX and Walmart is a lot cheaper on some brands.

You will be able to wear your own clothes, except shoes. They will give you very comfortable slipper socks to wear. If you come in with clothes in bad repair from an episode, they will give you gowns to wear temporarily and later they’ll let you find sweats in the lost and found, a collection of things patients left behind or people donated.

You have rights. You can refuse any treatment they want to subject on you. You many want to have an advanced directive on file with treatments and medications listed you do and do not want. An advanced directive also has emergency contacts as well as who you want to visit you and who you don’t.

If your state has a legal aid clinic to help people with mental health conditions, ask them about a Patient Bill of Rights. In Connecticut, CLRP is a legal clinic that helps people from housing to discrimination.

You are allowed to keep a private journal in the hospital. If you need paper and something to write with, just ask.

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