My Bipolar Voice

Recent Traumatic Behavioral Health Unit Experience

This may not be a popular topic or blog post for some to read, but it is my truth and experience and it must be shared by me, in order for me to heal from my recent stay at the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU).

I have been extremely transparent as of late, regarding my mental health struggles, in particular with Bipolar I Disorder. This post will be no different, and may be even more transparent. A little over a month ago, my sleeping pattern began to change, as well as my mood. With Bipolar Disorder, I have times where I sleep in a normal pattern, 7-9 hours, and times when I sleep too much, 9-12 hours, due to depression. But recently my pattern has shifted to 3-5 hours, sometimes more or less, due to hypomania, which eventually progressed to mania on September 8, 2020. I decided it was in my best interest to seek inpatient psychiatric care at a nearby hospital, on the late morning of September 8, 2020. My psychiatrist, who also is the psychiatrist at this hospital’s BHU, suggested I go there, so he can monitor me and help me sleep better in person. Due to the pandemic, all of our recent sessions have been virtual, and in person was a better option at this time.

I went to the ER first, since they have to talk to you and run tests first, prior to admission to the Behavioral Health Unit (BHU). Once admitted to the BHU, which took almost 5 hours, I was assigned a room, with a really comfortable bed. I say this, because they are usually not comfortable. I got lucky and got one of the few rooms with a reclining hospital bed, which was great because I was there to get needed sleep, as well as medication adjustments. I was prescribed Ambien, after I saw my Psychiatrist, and it was administered in the evening by my nurse, along with my other psych meds. I slept like a baby! It was glorious, until I woke up with a swollen throat and gasping for air. I had an allergic reaction to the Ambien called Angioedema. This happened years ago, when I took Ambien, but at the time, I was on 2 other new meds, and it was never determined which medication caused the Angioedema (swelling of the throat/uvula). I ceased taking it years ago, so It had not occurred again till now.

What happened next, is one of three traumatic incidents from this BHU stay. I alerted the staff of the Angioedema, and was pretty much not believed and mostly not helped. They didn’t even look at my throat. They gave me water and a throat lozenge. I asked, what is this for, as this is an allergic reaction. They said, “It will numb your throat.” I was baffled and furious that no one was listening or taking me seriously, as I knew I needed a steroid injection, as was previously done for me years ago. They did not do anything further to help me for 3 hours. I saw my Psychiatrist at this point, and let him know of the issue. He ordered the nurse to give me a Benadryl pill, and told me to come back to him in an hour if the swelling didn’t go down. An hour later I returned to him, with the same swelling. He then had the nurse administer a steroid injection and Benadryl injection, and within 30 minutes the swelling went away.

It’s frustrating not being listened to, when you are telling the truth. I understand that mental illness can cause one not to be honest all the time, so them ignoring me was not surprising, but very frustrating, demoralizing and disappointing. Angioedema can be life threating, as the swelling can cause breathing issues, so my concern is if this was more severe, I would have had to be dying for them to believe me. It’s simply not right for them to ignore me, just because I have a mental illness. My voice is valid too, and they dehumanized me, and made me feel like less of a human being. I cry as I write this, as I’m deeply hurt!

The second incident that occurred at the BHU, was racially charged. The first night, I did not have a roommate. But the second day, I was given a roommate, which is normal. What happened next, was far from it. Shortly after the swelling went down, I met my female roommate. She was manic like me, but very agitated and upset. We talked for a bit and got to know each other some. We liked each other and could relate, since we were both hyper and up in our mood, which may be why they paired us together. A few hours after we met, an item of hers was thrown in the trash, by one of the staff, but we didn’t know who. The roommate then said, “I know who probably did it. It was that Nig$er Bitch.” She was white and referring to a black nurse in the BHU. I was immediately in shock and asked, “excuse me?” I couldn’t believe what she had said. She quickly said she was sorry. I asked her not to use the word again and she responded with, I’ll call her “Hood Rat or Ghetto,” instead, I was taken aback again. I asked what she thought the “N” word meant. Her answer was it means “Black Person.” I was kind and tried to educate her on the “N” word meaning, as it’s an offensive word to describe black people as ignorant, inferior, stupid or dumb. After I explained, I got emotionally upset and left the room.

I found the black nurse who my roommate had called the N-Word, and told her what was said, and how I wanted either one of us to be removed from the room. I was angry and sad and was crying. The nurse told me to be strong and rise above my roommate’s comment/ignorance. They did not move either of us, and I was forced to remain in the room, with a woman who did not like black people. The staff said the unit was full, but I didn’t understand why they couldn’t swap either of us out of the room, and replace with another patient. I didn’t get too emotional for fear of being tied down and sedated by the staff, which has happened in the past, when I’ve spoken my mind. Sounds unbelievable, but it’s the truth. You have to learn to bite your tongue, even in a mental health facility, where you are there because your emotions are hard to control at the time.

Lastly, a short time after the racial slurs incident, I was verbally being attacked by another patient. This was a black patient, however, and that’s relevant so it’s known that I wasn’t only having issues with white patients. If you know me, I befriend all types of people, from various walks of life. I normally don’t see color, but this experience has altered my reality. Because I was already irritated, by the ignoring of my allergic reaction, and the ignoring of the racially charged incident, I was obviously on edge, and was not going to accept anybody verbally attacking me. So, I defended myself verbally, from a seated position in the T.V. common room. I was running off of pure adrenaline at this point, so I honestly don’t remember what started the verbal argument. I yelled to the staff to “get him away from me,” as I was sitting down, and he was in the way of the only exit out of the room. I had no where to go. One of the staff members walked out of the room away from the incident, and the other stood there, not knowing what to do. The patient started to head towards me, like he was attempting to attack or harm me. The only reason he didn’t get to me was because another patient stepped in and physically stopped him. Thank God for that other patient, but this is unacceptable! The staff did not know how to de-escalate or handle the incident, and there’s a lack of training there for sure.

All of the above mentioned situations, were very traumatic and overwhelming for me, especially since I went to the BHU specifically to get rest and be at some sort of peace, knowing I was getting the care I desperately needed. I was completely wrong! This was not a safe haven.

This experience, as well as previous traumatic BHU stays, has shown me that the mental heath care system needs an overhaul. I have since sent a formal written complaint to the Hospital’s HR department. I shared my experience as well as followed up with them on what I need implemented, in order to not take my story to the media. Due to the pandemic, mental health and racially charged incidents are at the forefront of conversations, and as a black woman with a mental illness, I refuse to be silent any longer about what I’ve experienced in these facilities over the years. I have a voice and can articulate my feelings through my writing, and so many with mental illness do not. I have a responsibility to share my story and be a voice for the voiceless, so this doesn’t happen to another person. Mental illness does not make you less of a human being or warrant mistreatment. I share my story, not to put the hospital on blast, but to create some noise around changing how the mental health system works, trains staff and operates. I’m hoping my story can be a stepping stone in the right direction.

2 replies to “Recent Traumatic Behavioral Health Unit Experience

  1. First, let me just validate that your experience was NOT okay.

    Second, my experience in mental health facilities is usually similar, (without the racism directed at me).

    I’ve learned that the hospital is a place to be physically safe if that is what you need, but not anything else. It’s not a place of “rest.” It SHOULD be, but it’s not.

    The techs are rarely equipped to deal with the wide variety of mental, emotional, and simply life issues that are going on in a unit and so they don’t manage patient safety in the best ways, (or in your case, at all).

    I’ve personally hid behind tables I’ve flipped as fights have broken out in lunch rooms and I didn’t have an exit. It was NOT a restful experience.

    I generally avoid the hospital now unless I am actively suicidal or psychotic. That was something that took me a while to learn though, and I had to advocate against my own doctors on a couple of occasions to explain that it wasn’t the best treatment setting for me.

    Now I use the mobile crisis teams, perhaps the crisis housing, (we have that here as a step down from the hospital), and it’s largely why I’m going to do DBT. DBT offers a 24/7 “coaching” line to help when you get dysregulated and the whole purpose is to keep you out of the hospital.

    I’m really sorry you had this happen to you. Racism in any form and in any place is unacceptable, and I get that your roommate was ill, but you shouldn’t have had to experience that after you told them. There should be a patient rights process at that hospital, and if it were me, I’d file a patient rights complaint, (along with the one you sent to HR).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I too have only gone in the past for manic episodes with psychosis or major depressive episodes, which sometimes included suicidal ideations, but this time I made the mistake of thinking I could get help to sleep! They’ve helped regulate my sleep in the past, but it was during an episode with psychosis. This was different, but I have definitely learned my lesson.

      I’m in California and we have text and call crisis hotlines too. I’m not sure where you are located, but the DBT program sounds promising. Let me know how it helps you and what you think.

      The formal complaint with HR was with patient experience services director, and that’s where you send patient complaints. He is also the Executive Assistant to the VP of the Hospital do it’s where my attorney friend told me to start. I will also be sending a letter/email to the board of directors of the hospital, as I do not want this swept under the rug. Going forward, if this sleeping issue and hypomania ever happens again, which it will, I will definitely utilize other outpatient resources. I’ve definitely learned from this experience, but am still a bit traumatized from the lack of care and lack of training by the staff to handle some of these situations. This is not the first time, I’ve been mistreated and I’ve witnessed others, who are not black, being mistreated as well. It’s an issue that needs to be changed.

      Thank you so much for reading and for your insight and suggestions!

      Liked by 1 person

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