My escape from the mental health system

HospitalWritten by: Joe Moonblue

Let me tell you why I hate the Mental Health System.

I was once told by one of the better health care professionals that I have met along the way “ Best not to rock the boat Joe, you can’t fight the Health Care system and win.”  Now when I look back, in a way I guess you could say I have fought it, and come out ahead.


My Introduction to Depression

It was 2001, shortly after 9/11. I remember this as the start of it. I’m not sure whether the event itself was the trigger but it was definitely just afterwards that I became ill. I was diagnosed with depression, but I dismissed this as ludicrous, I wasn’t the type to get depressed! I am now and always have been a very positive person and the word wasn’t really in my vocabulary.

The GP prescribed Seroxat and within 3 or 4 weeks of taking it I felt better. A further few weeks later and I felt better still. I had more energy than before. I was working long hours and going out at night, returning at 5am. My wife thought I was having an affair.I was taking huge risks on the stock market and was making or usually losing $5000 a day. My psychiatrist said he wanted to see me; he was concerned about my behaviour. I didn’t want to see him, I told him I was fine, but he insisted. He asked me to go to the Hospital for an assessment.


Crossing the Threshold Into the Underworld

At the hospital I was met by the Senior House Officer and to me she looked like a Vulcan from Star Trek. She led me to a room and the door shut behind me with a thud. There was no handle on the inside, just another door that led to another world.

The Vulcan took me to the reception room and we sat down.  She asked if it would be okay if I answered a few questions.

Did I hear voices? “No”

When I read a book did I think it was written just for me? “No”

When I watched TV were there any hidden messages for me? “No”

She asked me what year it was, (2002), the month, (October), and the day (the 15th). I was doing pretty well…then came the killer question, “Spell the word ‘WORLD’ backwards”. I tried – “DRLOW”. No. And then that was it. She decided I wasn’t fit to be at large.

I had two choices, I could admit myself for observation as a voluntary patient or they could get a doctor and section me. A section would mean a minimum stay of at least four weeks, so I chose the voluntary option.

I was taken to a ward and had to give them my belt and shoelaces. I was shown to my room; the widows didn’t open, there was a bed, a chair and a wardrobe.  A member of staff called John came in and he said  “Come on, I’ll show you around”. There was a games room and it had a pool table with just three legs and about six balls. There was a laundry room with washing machine, dryer and an ironing board, and there was lounge where the other patients were sitting watching Jeremy Kyle on TV.

John said I should make myself a brew and join the others. A few residents were wearing dressing gowns. One girl had bandages on her wrists. One lad was sitting with his head in his hands. Another lad, Matt, was talking on a mobile to a girl he was waving at through the window. She was staying in another ward upstairs. The lad turned to me and said, “She wants to know your name”. This was Lorraine (we had sex in the laundry room that night, people with Bipolar often have no inhibitions.  One of the perks of the illness I suppose).  Then Matt and I got to talking, and he told me that he had jumped off a motorway bridge after his girlfriend – who was also the mother of his daughter – had dumped him.

A boy of about 21 named Alex was sitting on the settee playing his guitar and he was very good. I found out that he had taken drugs in Thailand and developed psychosis. He was really hyper. I got chatting to him as well and he was really talking fast and couldn’t sit still.

At 6pm that evening, the medicine trolley was wheeled in and everyone went to form a queue.


Learning to Survive in Hell

A new patient discovers quite soon that a ward has its own rules. I was having a cigarette in the smoking room, chatting to “Jesus”.

Jesus tells me he has a haulage firm and can get me cheap trainers. He also tells me he is undercover working for the NHS and his job is to assess which patients are suitable for jobs in the outside world, to work in his haulage firm. The strange thing was that with all that money you would expect he would have been able to afford a pack of cigarettes.

Jesus watches me as I put my dimp out in the ashtray. There is still a full centimetre left on it, and in the Arden ward that’s a lot of dimp, Gerry is keeping an eye on that dimp as well. Then Tony comes in and he says “don’t leave your dimp in the ashtray, the Paki will get it!”

I was starting to really enjoy my time on the ward I saw myself as R P McMurphy from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

I said to some of the patients that we should plan a breakout. We could escape in the yellow laundry van, and since we were all mad in the hospital anyway we could behave exactly as we liked. It wasn’t like we could get sectioned anymore, I thought.

Josh was another one of the patients. He wore a long black coat and liked to walk around the games room swinging a pool cue round in the air. He tried to make an advance to one of the female staff and was moved downstairs to the high security unit. It was a shame because he was looking forward to being in the film that we were all planning to make about being in the hospital!

My friend Lorraine, another patient, used to pretend she was my doctor during visits. She also asked my friend Tom, who was visiting me, to help put up the Christmas tree even though it was only October. It was a plastic one that was kept in the toy cupboard.

Tom was only too pleased to help and when the tree was up and everyone in the ward clapped or smiled. This attracted the attention of the staff and the staff quickly took the tree down. But by then an idea had been planted and it had made everyone happy, so every night for the next two months, when there was less staff around, we would put that tree up and decorate it.

I was in demand at the hospital for interviews with visiting doctors and medical students. I was a textbook bipolar guy and they could not write it down fast enough. If they needed help I could prompt them, or lead them to the next question. I could tell the truth or lie, or mix it up, do anything they wanted. I remember a Chinese student practically wetting herself when I got going, she could not believe her luck.


Escape and Redemption

The kitchen at the hospital was filthy, and it felt like no one listened to the patients when they said that the kitchen was dirty. It seemed like they didn’t take it seriously, because, after all you were mad, and you were probably imagining it anyway. But Phil, who was a Silver Service chef and also an alcoholic, phoned the health inspector who he knew personally from the outside. The health inspector came in and then closed the kitchen down, so everyone apart from the ones with no homes to go to or those deemed to be too dangerous to leave had to go home.

The staff thought I was responsible for the health inspector’s visit because I was a troublemaker. When I returned to the hospital on the following Monday my stuff was in a black bin bag and I was given a release form to sign. I couldn’t believe my luck, I didn’t stop to think, I just walked out the door then ran and ran and ran until I was a long way away from the prison.

What did hospital do for me? It made me hate the Mental Health system and all who worked in it. To me it was abuse in the guise of care.

When I got out and finally got stable I became very keen to make films to show peoples stories as the experience had totally changed me. I had entered the world of an illness that cannot be seen or understood by family or friends and colleagues .There were girls in the hospital who had self harmed and were now homeless and not allowed to see their children.  This lack of understanding has put me on a mission to educate and inform the public about mental health through real life stories which can show we are just the same as ‘normals’.


Image by: Paul


Joe MoonblueJoe Moonblue produced films for clients in the corporate market including Pepsi, Nike, Amoco and I’M NO ANGEL with Alex Hurricane Higgins for the sell through market. Since being diagnosed with Bipolar in 2002 he has been making films with people recovering from mental health problems and taking an active role in anti-stigma work. You can find out more about Joe from his LinkedIn profile here. Work from his latest project, David’s Dream, can be found here.

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  • Bob Brotchie

    Powerful stuff Joe! I agree it can be a mess. I also know I cannot speak for every facility, far from it, but I have seen enough to know that you are recalling experiences that are clearly unacceptable. Now all we have to do is unravel ‘how’ to move forward! It seems awareness raising is simply not enough. We need voices of innovation who can sell and introduce paradigm shifts in culture.
    My personal views are that mental health can be so inexact a science, in fact – perhaps very little science indeed, that compassion is hard to find, because people ‘charged’ with ‘care’ are unable to understand what they see; coupled in that they are dis-empowered via politics and poor funding, or poor management of available funds.
    Have you had any experience of the facility created by sufferers?
    It is a shame that you talk of no positives whatsoever, other than your excellent mission to reduce stigma. Do you think, or imagine there is any positive stuff happening, anywhere Joe?
    I would be less than honest if I stated I had faith in a facility to monitor compassionately and appropriately my own mental health, god forbid I ever need it.
    Please share any positive aspects available Joe, because otherwise this may lack balance and leave those who may have to become an inpatient without any hope at all.

  • Joe Moonblue

    Hi Bob
    I don’t have any positive experiences of my time in hospital apart from the desire it gave me to do the work I do., I realise this makes the piece one sided but that’s the story I decided to write .I could write another about the positive aspects of the illness and the great people I have met along the way My films are positive but realistic and I do not shy away from talking openly about it but like I say that was the experience and I though it was interesting

    thanks very much for your comment

  • Bob Brotchie

    Thanks for your response, Joe.
    I’d like to clarify that I do not want to overly criticize your piece, clearly it has merit, along with your work. It is easy to talk of the good stuff, but I appreciate this doesn’t necessarily get the job done.
    I wish you every peace – and continued success on the journey.

  • Mandes Schiarelli

    You said” when I got out and got stable”… I’m curious as to the process you used to make that happen? It’s no small feat to do! That experience had to be at least satisfactory. It’s like anything else ( quality of care),it varies from place to place. Wearhouse treatment is deplorable, that I dare say is a con census among those that (” god forbid I ever need it”…Bob)are not among those of us that do. It’s those very same people that create the “branding” of many psyche disorders/ illnesses. I am a disabled vet. You want to talk about navigating a system to get proper treatment. Won’t even get into those complexities. Thank the powers that be for the support system of/by my fellow warriors. Joe, if you need any type of assistance,contact me and I will put the word out in this venue. I thank both of you for the points of view. All information is valuable.

  • Joe Moonblue

    Thanks Bob I didn’t take any offence at all

    Mandes it took a while to get stable through trial and error and experience , I don’t agree with pysch drugs but found I had to take them for the depression side of the condition. What really helped me was Cycling ,keeping fit is so important I believe , also doing voluntary work gives me a lot of self worth which is something I lost due to being treated like a pariah by friends once they found out I had been in ‘a looney bin ‘

  • Joe Moonblue

    Mandes also thanks for the offer of assistance I may take you up on that

  • Mandes Schiarelli

    It’s obvious that you handle your treatment with a whole body approach. So many don’t realize that the fluctuations of biochemistry is a mind /body phenomenon. Personally it took a antisiezure med to essentially bring me to the point being able to function at all. Once there physical activity, meditation, social interaction and backing off the partying gave me back a life worth living. The media’s miniaturization of bipolar disorder is criminal. I take an active role in trying to dispel the belief that every person who commits some heinous act is automatically bipolar. My background as an athlete, role in the Naval forces and fast track success made my being bipolar something that had to be a mistake. As you know, they don’t see us when we’re “well “….unless we’re really well.. lol. I appreciate the work you’re doing and don’t hesitate to make “the call” as the are some truly dedicated people w/in the military health care system who share your vision and are looking for varying means to accomplish it. Godspeed.

  • Mandes Schiarelli

    Oops, monsterization…
    must be one from my own dictionary…. or spell check was off… lol

  • Joe Moonblue

    Thanks Mandes

    I take Lamotrigine which is originally for Epilepsy also I agree the partying is no good especially Alcohol .I don’t believe you can better unless you cut it out , its a depressant after all and renders most meds useless .My email is if you send me email I can get back to you to see what we can do


  • Jennifer

    I definitely related to you about each ward and their own set of rules. You should research the free health clinic in Dallas texas. They definitely create a house of horrors. I have been diagnosed with depression for 8 years and before that I never really even knew what a mental hospital was. I think you have to watch your own way through your disease. The mental health industry makes it worse. Put in the hospital 10 times emotionally raped in restraint sand also have a torn ligament in my finger. The Dallas police department did nothing. I wish you well in your day.

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