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7 myths you shouldn't believe about staying in a mental hospital.

Don't believe what you see on TV or in the movies.

7 myths you shouldn't believe about staying in a mental hospital.

I waited as the elevator ascended at an achingly slow pace. Anxiety filled my body, and I could hardly breathe.

When the doors finally opened, I stepped out, clutching my bag, expecting to see a creepy monochromatic clinical space filled with zombies and screaming people being held down by aggressive staff whose sole job was to control patients like caged animals. Instead, I was welcomed by a wall of bright, hand-drawn inspirational quotes and a handful of warm smiles from staff and other patients. I started to breathe again. Maybe this wouldn't be as bad as I thought it would be.

Don't believe what you see on TV. There are no restraints here — just my stuffed animal and a journal. Photo by the author, used with permission.


Every hospital is different, but the one thing I can attest to after several stays at several different institutions is that psychiatric hospitals are nothing like they are portrayed in movies or on television.

There are many problems with the systems, and they are far from perfect. I won’t try to sugarcoat it, but they are certainly not as scary as has become common perception. They're not a vacation by any means, but they serve their purpose of keeping people safe and pointing them in the right direction without the straitjackets and padded cells.

Here are seven ways psychiatric hospitals today bust the myths of the asylums of yore.

1. Myth: Everyone in the “loony bin” is a drooling zombie.

Reality: When I used to think of mental patients, I envisioned the walking dead. Pale people shuffling around in robes and slippers with their zombie asses hanging out. I imagined staff drugging people into compliance to the point where they were just wandering around aimlessly staring off into space.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth. The patients I saw and got to know were vibrant and full of life. They were playing games and doing puzzles or chatting with loved ones. There were occasionally people around who were having a tough time as well. I saw people crying or even staring off into space from time to time, but because of dissociation or illness — not because they were forced into submission and drugged against their will.

2. Myth: Mental patients are all violent and dangerous.

Reality: People with severe mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than any other people, and they're actually more than 10 times as likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the general population.

I’ve met really nice people at hospitals, some of whom have had anger issues for sure, but none of them were threatening at all. In fact, many were shy and reserved on the unit. Inevitably some people who enter psychiatric facilities will have a history of violent impulses or actions, but in my experience, the majority of the violent urges were people wanting to harm themselves, not anyone else.

3. Myth: Staff will force pills down your throat.

Reality:I recently had a roommate who didn't want to take a new medication she was prescribed ... so she didn't. I never once saw anyone forced to take medications or do anything they didn’t want to do. The psychiatrists meet with patients regularly to determine and maintain a path of treatment and the appropriate medication plan. But the doctors make med recommendations because it’s their job; they don’t force pills down anybody’s throat.

These are the pills I was prescribed — and chose to take. Photo via the author, used with permission.

4. Myth: ECT is a scary and violent punishment.

Reality: ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is still a commonly used procedure at psychiatric facilities, especially for the treatment of resistant clinical depression and bipolar disorder, but it’s not like the movies. People are not dragged in as punishment, kicking and screaming. They’re not strapped down with huge leather straps, and they don't lie awake as their bodies go into seizure.

In my experience, I walked into a treatment room, laid down, and was given anesthesia so I wouldn't feel a thing. And the next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room. It still was a challenging and emotional experience, and I’ve had trouble with my memory ever since, but I wasn’t awake and zapped into submission.

ECT can also be incredibly helpful for some people. Jessica Bishop, a hospital mate of mine who has been hospitalized seven times, says, “ECT has been a lifesaver for me so far. I am able to function and hold down a part-time job. I recommend trying ECT if depression and sadness are overwhelming and too complicated.”

5. Myth: All hospitals are the same, and they keep you locked inside without access to fresh air.

Reality: In the movies, all mental hospitals look and feel exactly the same. In reality, there are many different kinds of hospitals. There are state hospitals, private hospitals, and residential programs. Some are unlocked, while others are locked. Some keep you inside all the time, while others have fenced-in outdoor areas. My last hospitalization offered guided walks with staff twice a day.

6. Myth: You’re stripped of your gadgets and denied contact with the outside world.

Reality: In all but one of the facilities I have been in, I was allowed to hang on to my phone and computer. At one facility, I could not keep any cords in my room, so I had to charge my gadgets one at a time at the nurses’ station, but at least I got to have them. I was allowed to speak with my family and friends as much as I was able, and I even blogged from the inside. I have kept my nonprofit online photography gallery Broken Light Collective going daily through three different hospitalizations. You can always find a way to make contact with the outside world if and when you want to.

7. Myth: You will go home “cured.”

Reality: I really thought I was going to do my time and then joyfully skip through the rotating hospital doors to the outside world in a happy and healthy place. It didn’t work like that for me — or many of the people I met.

What the facilities will do is keep you safe, adjust and/or monitor your meds, teach you coping tools if you are open to it, and then set you up with after care and send you on your way. After care can vary from partial hospitalization programs in which you go home each night, to intensive outpatient programs, to the care of your outside physicians. The hard work continues long after you leave the hospital. The hospital can help but is definitely not a quick fix.

If you do have to be hospitalized at one time or another, your hospitalization will be what you make of it.

If you take care of yourself, follow the rules, go to group meetings, and learn coping skills, you can come out in much better shape than how you entered. If you fight the hospitalization every step of the way, break the rules, and don’t attend your group meetings, you will likely not get too much from the program. I’ve done it both ways and highly recommend the former.

And if you have to go to a hospital, it’s really not the end of the world either. It’s certainly nothing to be ashamed of.

It might not be a great experience. It might be downright shitty. But there are nice patients and staff, even at the crummiest of programs. They’re not all zombies or pill pushers, I swear.

The bottom line is this: If you need to go, go.

If you ever think you need a higher level of care, just do what you need to do to start heading in the right direction. Don’t let your ideas about asylums from movies and television get in the way of your healing journey. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You deserve the chance to heal and move forward in a productive, meaningful, and hopefully happy way.

Staying in a mental hospital helped me get back on the path to healing. Photo by the author, used with permission.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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