Monday, June 20, 2016

How is Locking People Up Healing?

A message from the New Hampshire State Hospital from Dr. Alana Raqael Nancy May Hodgkins, Psy.D., LADC, sister, daughter, aunt and mother-to-be, woman, every woman and person who has being held against their will.  I am writing from where I have been held against my will since Tues 6/14.  

UPDATE:  7/20/16 - Alana Raqael was released from the New Hampshire hospital late last month.  She reports ongoing discrimination and maltreatment back in Vermont, including in with the housing run by her local mental health organization.  An related article about her ER experience was recently published in Counterpoint, a quarterly newspaper of Vermont Psychiatric Survivors

This is Nancy Raquels story from June 2016: 

Here are some questions I have for people of conscience everywhere:  
  • How is it in our culture we believe that locking people up is healing?  
  • Why do we believe that normal attempts to cope with trauma constitute a mental illness?
  • Why as a society do we think it is therapeutic to medicalize and dehumanize people who are going through hard times?
It's time for a change that utilizes courage and hope and builds on resilience, not fear. 

If I, a doctor, can almost lose her life, her sense of hope, her daughter, her home, her beloved dog, and most importantly faith in the present and future, and if this can happen to me it can happen to all of us.  I have had several experiences that I'd like to share within the past month.  I feel betrayed by my psychiatrist. Despite her long-standing and highly public support of mental health alternatives, my psychiatrist had me declared mentally ill and in need of care and commitment. 
As a consequence, I spent 9 days in the ER, where both my wrists were sprained - one by a guard, the other by a female nurse. I was lying in my bed quietly trying to eat my meal when the latter became enraged upon discovering that I had been trying to dial out the CEO of the hospital.  She ordered a restraint, while I was lying there quietly eating.  Six people surrounded me and four-pointed me to the bed.  I started screaming and then choked on my food.  Somebody said "she's choking', and the food came out of my mouth because I was coughing.  

The female nurse then accused me of spitting, so they put a hood over my face and covered my mouth.  I started hyperventilating from the fear and couldn't breath.  When I told them I couldn't breath, they said coldly, "yes you can.'    They ripped off my Pandora bracelet without unclasping it, causing a deep bruise.  They removed my wrist guard causing another sprain.  They told me to stop crying, which was ridiculous because they were traumatizing me.  They injected me with something that eventually knocked me out. 

I got disability rights involved and they advocated for me to go to Rutland.  The psychiatrist in Rutland wanted to release me because he didn't believe I was a danger to myself or others.  I told him to check with my former doctor because I was afraid that if he released me without her consent, she would simply have me readmitted.  The Rutland psychiatrist then called my former psychiatrist who said, in effect, "Yes, if you let her out, I'm just going to put her back in." 

We then shifted a previously scheduled an 'Open Dialogue' meeting where everyone involved could talk from Burlington to Rutland.  However, at the appointed time, neither of my doctors from Rutland showed up.  I was afraid to go into the meeting and face my former psychiatrist without their support, so I set off the hospital alarms in an effort to call attention to the matter.  When the call finally did occur, my former psychiatrist dominated the entire meeting, leaving little time or space for input from anyone else.  She declared me mentally ill and in need of services I didn't need.  She totally overlooked and ignored my real and stated needs.

I've been at the State Hospital in New Hampshire since last Tuesday. I already have a 5 inch long bruise on my upper leg. I've been force-medicated and had my wrist sprained in what they call a 'personal safety emergency', after which they locked me in a concrete block of a room with no stimulation.

I am not sure how they ever thought there was an emergency. I am not a danger to myself or others. I am not aggressive. My only actions have been to protect myself from the aggression of others.

I've had 2 'personal safety emergencies' already since getting here. Because of that, they've restricted my privileges and I can't go outside.

How am I supposed to heal in these circumstances. How is anyone? What about the Hippocratic oath of the medical profession of doing no harm ? What about helping people heal with courage, hope and faith?

It does not help when I am distressed to be locked up, secluded, restrained, force-medicated, or cut off from the human race. What I need to heal is meaningful contact with other people. I need people's courage, hope, faith and support. I need friends and family and caregivers just showing up in whatever way they can. It could be a card, a dog, an inspirational quote, sending chocolates.

Despite all of this, I am not giving up. My artistic side is coming out here. I dance, I draw, I write poetry. When they lock me up in isolation, I draw words and images of courage, hope and love on the walls. Likewise, for others in this kind of situation, I encourage artistic expression, music, art, dance, whatever helps you heal.

This song inspires and expresses my spirit: Fight Song,

I need us all as a community to take a defiant stance against locking people up and force medicating them as part of a healing process.

I also need your support, your good will and your solidarity here in order to survive. Peace to all. Please send chocolate, support, visit, call. If anyone has a IPOD they could donate to the hospital so we could listen to music, we need that here too.

My contact information is below:

Address:  NH Hospital, APS Building - Unit D, 36 Clinton St., Concord NH 03301

Please contact Anne Donahue with any stories on ER experiences.   She's doing an expose for the Counterpointthe newsletter in Vermont for psychiatric survivors,   

Other helpful numbers you may want to call on my behalf are: 
Please pass this on. I want this to hit the world - because if it's happening to me in little towns in New Hampshire - or in a supposedly liberal and progressive place like Burlington Vermont, it can happen everywhere. I know together we can all make a difference.

I'd like to end here with a quote that means a lot to me, that I wish the so-called healing professions would take to heart:
"What keeps relationships together is not what we have in common, it is the ability to tolerate, accept and embrace our differences."

In peace and solidarity,

Dr. Alana Raqael Nancy May Hodgkins, Psy.D., LADC, sister, daughter, aunt and mother-to-be


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  2. I feel for you so much. My experience wasn't as bad as yours, but here's what happened to me (fifteen years ago, at the age of fifteen, in an NHS low secure adolescent unit).

    Please DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS COMMENT if you may find a detailed description of physical restraint distressing.


    I was restrained many times. Usually, they would grab my wrist and pull it up behind my back as far as possible. When I went limp from the pain, they would push me against the wall and grab my other wrist to do the same thing. If they thought I needed further restraint, they would then attempt to lower me to my knees; otherwise they would hold me against the wall until I had been still for several minutes, after which I had to take PRN medication. If I was able to resist kneeling, they would make me kneel by pushing against the back of my knees. Then they would lie me on my front, and either three or four nurses would hold me down with my arms up behind my back and my legs held down, and press my face against the carpet (which, incidentally, was infested with fleas). Sometimes one nurse would kneel on the back of my knees if they thought I might struggle. Any time I did struggle, they would pull my arms up higher, and when I relaxed they would reward me by letting up slightly. They would hold this position until I had stopped struggling for at least 5-10 minutes (I can't be more specific as time passes differently in these circumstances). It was very hard to breathe. If they thought it was or might become be necessary, they would pull my trousers and knickers down and administer haloperidol. Once, they did this injection in front of all the other patients. I was physically restrained like this many times. Once, while struggling, my arm escaped the restraint and accidentally hit a nurse in the face. I was very upset, but was told that I was lucky they didn't apply the NHS Zero Tolerance policy for aggression towards staff.

    I was never aggressive to others, but did occasionally self-harm mildly - just scratching. I was usually restrained if they thought there might be a chance I would self-harm. Any behaviour which the staff didn't like was referred to as "kicking off". I was often refused my own clothes. My bed and wardrobe were removed from my room. I was regularly put on 1-1 or 2-1 arm's-length observations. I was told I was just copying another girl (who was very ill and was later transferred to a secure unit) to get attention.

    I can't cope now with being held in a position I can't immediately escape, even a hug with my partner or family. My shoulders were painful, weak and clicky/crunchy for years afterwards. I have been left with a deep fear of mental health services and professionals, despite never having been treated this way in the three admissions to adult wards I've had (two of them when I was still under eighteen).I still have nightmares about being restrained, and whenever I think about it my heart races. I refuse go into hospital when I need treatment unless I am threatened with being sectioned.

    The hardest part emotionally is that despite being treated this way, and despite escaping ("absconding", in their jargon) several times, I became almost institutionalised and I asked to go back in whenever I was released for weekend leave.

    It was about as therapeutic as hitting myself on the head with a brick for those three months would've been.

    I hope you are released and able to start working on getting better soon.

    1. Thank you for sharing and speaking the truth of your experience. I appreciate you naming the effects so clearly. Grateful for your ultimate physical escape - recognizing, as you point out here, that emotionally I suppose one never fully escapes the bondage and its effects

    2. Would be interested to post your account as a blog in its own right if you were willing.

  3. I have read so many thousands of files and they are identical; it's brutal torture, nothing else. You are deeply loved.

  4. Following a serious suicide attempt I woke up unaware of where I was and tried to get out of bed. 4 nurses came in and without speaking to me, put me in 4 point restraints. By then I realised where I was and that I had removed an indwelling catheter without knowing what it was. I told them this and apologised telling them I wouldn't do it again. I begged them to let me go and after about a half hour as I became more and more panicky they released my feet. I did not kick out as I knew one false move would have them tied up again. They came in every ten minutes or so and I asked them to call my family, then as time went by, the doctor, the senior nurse, anyone in authority, a lawyer. I gradually became more and more distressed but tried to keep appearing calm. ln the entire 4 or 5 hours not one word was spoken and in the end I was howling like a dog. I was 61 years old, a middle class woman with no experience of physical violence against me and, as an ex-psychiatric nurse, no experience of ever having seen anyone shackled in the 6 years of working in acute admission wards in a large old mental hospital. Eventually I was sedated but remained shackled for a further 15 hours. This appalled my sister who asked why and was told, `she's shackled because she keeps getting out of the shackles.' My sister says I was almost unconscious during her visit. If anyone could get out of those shackles I'd like to meet them. They'd have to be much stronger than a 61 year old, 50 kg woman. I later managed to get the file for that period and found that the records for that time were missing except for the beginning, where it was clear that entries had been added, and the very end when I was checked for `pressure areas'. I still feel, some 13 years later that I would not survive being shackled again. That my mind would break forever. To you courageous people, whose experiences are so much worse than mine, who continue as you do, I salute you. I think the humiliation and fear have NOTHING to do with helping anyone. It is torture and as such is designed to denigrate, control and ultimately destroy the individual, but in doing it to others the perpetrators are also destroying their own humanity.Dostoyevsky’s statement admirably sums up these conclusions:
    `When a man has unlimited power over the flesh and blood of his fellow men, when a man is in a position to degrade another human being to the limit of degradation, he is unable to resist the temptation to do wrong. Tyranny is a habit. In the end it becomes a disease. The best man in the world becomes so brutalized as to be undistinguishable from a wild beast’

    1. Beautifully, powerfully spoken. So terrifying what you have lived. Would be interested to post your account as a blog in its own right if you were willing.

  5. Jesus Christ! This was barbaric. If I were Ms. Hodgkins, I'd go "Charles Bronson" on those brutes as soon as I could get away with it! Justice by ANY means.


  6. I moved to Brattleboro Vermont on February 4, 2015, leaving my home state of Connecticut where I’d lived for nearly 60 years, fearing the horrific psychiatric abuses I experienced in Connecticut hospitals and that if ever I were hospitalized again I would be killed

    Being restrained - 4-pointed as they call it - in leather cuffs that are tightened around the wrists and ankles to shackle a patient to a bed – or being isolated by force in an often freezing seclusion cell must be universally terrifying. Nevertheless, both cell and/or restraints are routinely employed to curb loudness and undesirable behaviors at the Hospital of Central Connecticut on Grand Street in New Britain. I know this because I was subjected to both seclusion and restraints multiple times in the spring of 2014, despite a diagnosis of chronic paranoid schizophrenia, as well as PTSD that was triggered by precisely this sort of thing.

    Bizarrely, the hospital psychiatrist, Dr Michael E Balkunas, treating me at HOCC challenged my PTSD diagnosis. “Patient misperceives her treatment as traumatic,” he wrote in my chart. Well, maybe so, but I don’t know how I can be accused of misperceiving three entire days callously abandoned alone, tied to the four posts of a metal bedstead at U-Conn’s Dempsey Hospital (for trying to escape the locked unit) as anything but brutality, even if it was in the 1990s. I also think it is nearly by definition traumatic to be forced to defecate in one’s own clothing while tied to a bed which is what they did at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living in the winter of 2013. This was after I was told to lie down and place my own limbs in the leather cuffs (“as a consequence but not a punishment”) for walking away from the very same “Side Room” that I had just been assured was “not a seclusion room unless you call it a seclusion room.”

    Again, maybe I misperceived being grabbed and held face-down and nearly suffocated numerous times by staff at Yale Psychiatric Hospital in August 2013, who injected 10-20 milligrams of Haldol, a known drug of torture. Maybe this was just kindliness that I misunderstood as traumatic, maybe it was merely a “psychotic misperception” on my part? Maybe, and maybe not.

    Nevertheless, the fact remains that in the ED of New Britain’s HOCC, a security guard in May 2014, grabbed me by my left shoulder immediately after he was warned by the nurse that it was my left shoulder that had a rotator cuff tear.

    My New Britain chart records that I was admitted to that hospital, and to the IOL and others with a detailed Psychiatric Advance Directive, the first page of which states that seclusion, four-point restraints and forced medication invariably result in regression to “primitive states and severe worsening of symptoms.” It also makes several concrete suggestions how better to deal with me when I am upset. Even though I spent many hours on this document, Psychiatric Advance Directives have no legal clout in Connecticut and doctors can and do ignore them freely.

    Perhaps because of this, HOCC staff literally forced me (“escorted me”) to seclusion and/or restrained me again and again. They took to stripping me “for safety’s sake,” and even though I put up no resistance, they had the male guards spread-eagle my limbs while still naked and put restraint cuffs on without even covering me.

    Is it any wonder that what resulted was someone who would wash her hair in her own urine, defecate on the floor of her room and smear feces on the wall? Yet Dr Balkunas, the director of W-1, the general psychiatry unit at HOCC claimed that my trauma was imaginary. Why? Because treatment cannot be traumatic. He simply never got the connection between my horrendous decompensation and his so-called “therapy.” Maybe he never appreciated that he was torturing me, like a person who ripped the wings off butterflies as a child. Someone like that would not have understood how those creatures suffer either.

  7. Sarah, the piece above is only a fragment of the longer complaint i sent to SAMHSA and the DOJ. I heard that HHS and their OCR is finally "investigating" but every time i call the number they gave me to get progress reports, no one answers or calls me back...

    Anyhow, feel free to use the above as a post or i could furnish you with the longer piece itself, which is very well written and rather an eye opener... BW pam wagner


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