psychiatric survival

Oh… this is really important to know. If you are planning a trip to the mental hospital or are going into a situation where you think that you might be institutionalized against your will.

Write important phone numbers on your body with a sharpie!

In a psychiatric hospital in the United States you have the right to place outgoing phone calls, provided that you don’t abuse that right by making harassing phone calls. However, the nurses like to infringe on your ability to do so by taking away your phone book or any scrap of paper you might have brought with you.

When I was hospitalized I brought with me a note card with important phone numbers on it such as my physician’s, my girlfriend, legal aid, close friends, and family. They took away my card and the only reason I was able to seek assistance or reach out at all was that I had my girlfriend’s phone number memorized.

It’s also possible, in the United States, to specify certain individuals who the nurses must contact upon your admission as an inpatient. You can also specify individuals they must contact if they apply any form of restraint. You need to do this with an advance directive so, if you haven’t done this already, you should.

It is also possible, if you are hospitalized by force, unexpectedly (say, a cop stops you on the street), to get a message out to a loved one. Tell the nurses that the loved one can shed light on your condition and that their number is in your phone (or your purse, or wherever). They’ll contact them but they will likely not give you their number, even if you ask. Talk with your outside contact and instruct them to request to talk to you if they receive such a call.

You can also write your phone numbers on slips of paper concealed on your person. When you are admitted to the hospital you will be frisked, patted down, and your pockets will be checked but because a piece of paper is flat it will not be detected by a pat-down. Put the piece of paper in your bra, if you wear one, or in your panties. Alternatively, tape it or, better, sew it to the inside of your trouser cuff (do not wear trousers with a draw string because they may take your trousers away from you). To view the paper, ask to use the restroom and read it there, then memorize the number by repeating it over and over in your head. Except in exceptional circumstances you will not be directly observed in the toilets.

Putting the piece of paper in your sock is a bad idea. They will take away your shoes when you are admitted (especially if your shoes have laces) and your socks. They give you special socks with non-slip bottoms for safety reasons so anything you’ve hidden in your regular socks will be lost.

If the phone numbers are visible on your skin, you also risk them ‘washing’ you because you’re ‘dirty’. Put it on your chest or abdomen or something.

Actually, now that I think about it, embroidering/writing your critical information on your clothes is a wonderful solution, especially for people who don’t wear bras, because in the United States you have a right to wear your own clothing. If a nurse bullies you over it, take them to the patient’s rights poster (which, by law, the must have posted) and point out your right to wear your own clothing.

Good luck.