As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
By now, we’ve all heard the horrific details of the Britney Spears Conservatorship.
If you’re (rightly) shocked by the revelations Brit poured out of her heart a couple days ago, you’re in for a rude awakening. I’m going to let you in on a secret that every mentally ill and disabled person knows all too well. Britney Spears Conservatorship issues are FAR from unique, we’re just hearing about them now because she’s famous.
This kind of B.S. is nothing new to the disabled community. People have been using our mental health and ability as an excuse to manipulate, silence, neglect, and abuse us since time immemorial.
Still not sure? Well, let me tell you my firsthand account of what it’s like to be treated for a mental health condition in America.
TW: Suicide and Traumatic events
Why the Britney Spears Conservatorship Story Means so Much To Me Personally
You might be shocked to hear that Britney Spears, among other horrific abuses, was forced to wear an IUD so she couldn’t reproduce. Terrifying, right? Absolutely.
And it’s exactly why I work so hard as a mental health advocate. Because that shit, as messed up as it seems, happens all the damn time. No one should be forced into treatment, no one should be involuntarily sterilized, and no one be manipulated into compliance under the guise of “care.”
That’s why I’m telling my story today. I don’t talk about it much because it’s hard to recount such a painful time. And it often makes me feel embarrassed, judged, and ashamed. Which I shouldn’t be, but still.
But i’m talking today because this shit needs to stop. The general public NEEDS to be more aware of what it’s really like for mentally ill people in this world.
My Story Part One: Being Baker Acted*
*For reference, the Baker Act is an involuntary three day hold in a Behavioral Health Facility in the state of Florida enforced due to potential self harm or harm to others. Find out more about the Baker Act and Civil Commitments here)
On February 16th, 2019 I went to the hospital because I tried to kill myself after a LONG battle with OCD and depression.
To put things in perspective, I checked myself in. I knew I was finally ready to seek treatment but didn’t know how else to go about it than go to the ER.
Now, I went looking for help and do you know what I got?
I got treated like a criminal. I got treated like I didn’t exist.
The doctor didn’t tell me I was Baker Acted. No he came in the room, literally looked over me and told the telehealth psychiatrist that he was Baker Acting me.
Then he walked away without ever looking me in the eye. Like I didn’t matter.
Now, the nurse was much nicer. He did his best to reassure me and answer questions. But even the little information we could get out of him couldn’t prepare me for the next 72 hours.
I had to be strapped to a gurney and taken on an ambulance for a five mile trip. This was not only embarrassing and demoralizing but a huge waste of resources that could have been out helping someone else.
I was so upset this whole process, it was literally the worst day of my life. In a second I was ripped away from everything I knew and whisked away to a facility. They wouldn’t let my husband ride in the ambulance with me or come with me to the building.
When I got there, I was literally wheeled in and dumped in a (very) cold lobby area crying my eyes out only wearing an airy hospital gown and my underwear bottoms. That’s it.
Part Two: The Fish Bowl
The man at the desk had the audacity to ask me why I was crying and to cheer up. I glared at him through bleary eyes.
I got checked in, which involved a TON of paperwork. The I had to strip and get weighed and searched. Had my one phone call then had my phone taken away. Had a brief introduction pamphlet thrown my way but no more information.
And here’s the best part.
No one told me I was about to be thrown out into a mixed sex ward. Still in a hospital gown and panties.
For a person with a history of rape and abuse, how do you think it was for me to be walking into that fishbowl and being stared at by the majority male population? Yeah, you guessed it – really f*cking terrified. I cried the entire first day.
No one bothered to explain to me the rules of the place other than the pamphlet and a poster on the wall.
I wasn’t able to get clothes until much later when my husband was allowed to drop them off.
Some patients didn’t have a person to visit them so some of them never received clothes beyond the gown and a pair of socks. We were stared at 24/7 (again fair, suicidal but it still didn’t feel good). We were woken up in our sleep repeatedly to do medical checks.
Part Three: Heartbreaking Scenes from the Mental Ward
The boy across the room from me was developmentally disabled. For whatever reason he was kept in his room, in his bed, almost 23 out of 24 hours of the day with a guard over him. He repeatedly cried “I want my mom,” and “I want to go home.”
It was absolutely heartbreaking to hear that every few minutes.
People cried, screamed, paced, and fought. I myself broke down in the hallway after the worst visit with the most cold, dismissive psychiatrist I’d ever met who told me I couldn’t go home.
Through all this the techs and nurses barely batted an eyelash, totally compartmentalized (in fairness they couldn’t really do their job if they didn’t stuff down their compassion). They shuffled us around like prisoners from med line to mess hall, stern and yelling at anyone who didn’t comply.
We spent 23 hours a day inside with barely anything to do but a few donated books (1/2 of them being different versions of the bible) and one tv that 30 people had to watch which caused some friction. There were activities a couple times a day but they were inconsistent. When we did get outside it was 30 minutes to an hour of outside time in a covered, fenced in patio that had a park bench in it. That’s it.
Now you tell me how that’s supposed to be therapeutic? Go on I’ll wait.
Part Four: Like a Ghost
I had to beg the nurses multiple times in order to see a counselor. And even then the counselor barely listened to me. She just kept asking me the same canned questions the others had asked. “Are you seeing hallucinations right now?” “Do you have thoughts of suicide?” This went on until I finally slammed my hand down on the table and said “dammit, I need you listen to me no one has listened to me since I got here 24 hours ago.”
And that was absolutely true. It was like an episode of the Twilight Zone and I was a ghost. People looked right through me. No one listened when I spoke. I was just a number to them.
If you’ve never been incarcerated or Baker Acted I’m not sure I can describe to you what that does to a person.
I felt hollow, worthless, like my voice didn’t matter anymore.(And yes, I recognize that’s a privileged ass statement because there are black and brown, LGBTQIA and disabled people who are made to feel like this on the daily by society). I remain traumatized by this hospitalization to this very day.
You may feel like this is terrible but it’s not an uncommon experience. You may recall, The Tampa Bay Times broke a story not too long ago. One that claimed behavioral health inpatients were being held longer than the Baker Act’s three days (which the doctor can do without warning if you don’t “behave”) in order to collect insurance money.
I was not at all surprised by this. I myself was told BY A TECH to act happy so they wouldn’t have ammo to be able to hold me longer.
So not only are we silenced often, we are often manipulated and preyed upon because our rights are stripped away. All because we needed help with our mental health. It’s wrong, it’s f*cked up, and it happens all the time.
Behavioral Health Systems Aren’t The Only Part of the System That’s Messed Up
One more story before I go. When I went to treatment (which I got for myself because the outpatient therapist I was assigned to talk to by the hospital wasn’t available for THREE MONTHS after I got out)I had insurance. Good insurance.
The facility informed me that treatment would be paid for completely by insurance.
Not a week after I got into my intensive outpatient (which saved my life btw) a counselor came to me and told me the insurance was fighting my claim. They didn’t believe I had OCD. BTW, this is something that happened SO frequently that the facility had an entire team dedicated to fighting insurance companies on behalf of the patients.
This fight went on for weeks. The better I did on my assessments (because the treatment was working) the more ammo the insurance had to deny my claim. In the end I was so much better but left holding the bag for a $3,000+ medical bill that I’m still paying off.
And this is not a unique situation, this happens all the time with mental health claims. That’s because they are harder to prove than physical health claims. Even though there are laws against this, insurance companies use every trick in their slimy little books to circumvent them and deny mental health claims. This practice keeps so many people from attaining life saving mental health care and is another way MH Discrimination is alive and well in 2021.
Britney Spears Conservatorship Nightmare: What it Can Teach Us
If you take anything from Britney Spears’ conservatorship battle, it’s this.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship nightmare isn’t an isolated incident.
It can happen to anyone, anywhere. It could even happen to you. Laws are evolving thanks to the Affordable Care Act and its Mental Health Parity provisions. But they are nowhere near enough to protect the rights of Behavioral Health patients. And the legal system can easily be manipulated in ways that harm disabled and mentally ill people.
Behavioral health systems are overwhelmed. Staff are rarely trained properly. Abuses are still rampant.
Things desperately need to change.
I admire Britney very much because even though she was afraid of the consequences, she took back her voice. That’s something I hope more and more mentally ill and disabled people can start doing. The more we refuse to be silent, the greater change we can effect.
Thank you for listening to my story. If you want to help be part of the change please reference this article on Three Ways to Make Mental Healthcare More Equitable.
Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc, or its affiliates.