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My Voluntary Commitment to a Mental Institution: Pt. 2

Updated on July 12, 2013

Art or Reality?



The moment I was wheeled into the ambulance that was to transport me to the hospital, I began to question my decision. All of the drama had suddenly ceased, and I realized I was really going to a mental institution. I suddenly felt very alone as I settled into this strange vehicle; this was real.
I remember believing I had become extremely lucid, and in this state I would simply let the driver and attendant know that I had made a silly mistake, that it would be quite correct and honorable of them to turn around and take me home. I would be happy to clear up any and all misunderstandings. As a 55 year old woman, I could convince these youngsters to do a granny's bidding, no?

Thankfully I decided to keep these thoughts to myself. I do understand my sudden panic, but am grateful that I had not forgotten the events that led up to this unfortunate yet necessary voyage.

Images of the movie "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" began appearing in my mind, yet I was certain Kesey's tale was no longer relevant. All those crazies, the horrid nurse-that was only in the movies, right? As we drove the 200 miles to my destination, I contemplated the consequences of my decision to be institutionalized, wondering just how much art would indeed reflect life.

I couldn't help but consider the actual meaning of committing oneself to hospitalization. Legally, I imagined I would be able to leave at any time, without consequences. In terms of insurance, however, I was told that my medical plan would not cover any decision to leave 'against medical advice'-so essentially I was stuck. What had I done?

Now I know that I had done what was necessary to keep myself alive. And in order to remain alive, I needed to make changes in my current life, changes I now saw as impossible. I needed someone, something, to help me understand how to implement life changes; as an individual, I was hopelessly lost.

Have you or anyone you know ever considered psychological institutionalization?

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A Short Video About West Hills


West Hills is located smack dab in the middle of a crack neighborhood; drug deals are obvious to driving onlookers, and hookers mingle as potential clients pull over for a chat. As we neared the facility, I was allowed to sit and watch out the rear of the ambulance window, now even more concerned for my personal sanity and safety. What sort of hospital would be located in such a dangerous area? If I had been 'in my right mind', perhaps I would have noted this neighborhood veritably begged for such a hospital.

"Walk-ins Welcome"?

~Forgive me, I simply couldn't help that aside, now that I have the luxury of hindsight.~

I need not have worried about physical security since as we pulled into the facility at 4 a.m., I noticed extremely bright lighting, razor wire and wrought iron fencing enclosing the hospital. Rather than being comforted, however, I returned to my sense of feeling trapped. Yet, I had voluntarily come this far...

As the ambulance door opened, 2 or 3 hospital staffers joined the driver and attendant in 'greeting' (assessing) their newest patient. I gathered up what belongings I was allowed to take en route to Reno and exited the ambulance. As the vehicle pulled away, I knew I was, indeed, in an institution. The intake workers and security staff were quite kind, and seemed genuinely concerned for my well-being. I did not expect such treatment: This was Reno, Nevada, a 'sin city' if you will, and I was from Bishop, California, a small rural community which boasts perhaps 1 or 2 vagrants, and major criminal activity is virtually unheard of. Honestly, some have called Bishop a modern day 'Mayberry'.

Feeling cautiously optimistic, I was processed into West Hills and given a patient number for confidentiality when receiving phone calls. My vitals were taken by a nurse who then locked the final door behind us as she led me to my unit.


West Hills Hospital

There are numerous disorders treated at West Hills, and mine was initially diagnosed as suicidal depression, as that was my presenting symptomology. My unit placement was dependent on this presentation, so I was taken to a 'depression ward'. (There are also detox and other placements for patients available.)

My first impression of my environment was that the building was predictably 'institutional looking'-the color of the walls a bland beige, the halls and rooms hospital gray. I was escorted to the nursing station, photographed, and taken to my room. It was after 4 in the morning, so the unit was quiet and I found my new roommate asleep. I was woozy from the medication I had been given in Bishop, so I took the other 'bed'-if memory serves, it was actually a concrete slab with some bedding on it-and fell asleep.

Several hours later I woke to a nurse checking my vital signs. After she finished her tasks, she told me I was to see the resident psychiatrist. I did as told and was highly impressed with the doctor's 'bedside manner'-he seemed intelligent and quite caring, qualities I did not expect in such a setting. The session lasted around 15 minutes and as I opened the door to leave, saw that the other 'residents' were lined up for breakfast. I followed and began watching my peers with my sociologist's eye-curious about the types of individual behavior and interactions existed. Depression was evident everywhere, I sensed. Even during meals. Many were crying at the tables, unable to carry on with the small-talk one expects at such socially awkward gatherings.

Once back on the unit, we were instructed to attend group meetings-voluntarily, it was pointed out-which I did, intuiting that my 'stay' would be shorter if I did so. I was right. The group sessions concentrated on the concept of depression, how it can lead to a myriad of behaviors. Most-if not all-of my new pals at West Hills were medicated for depression, including me.

Over my 3 day institutionalization, groups were seemingly constant, broken up only for meals and cigarette breaks. These breaks were much anticipated, even by non-smokers, for we were able to go outside 3 times a day. Time outdoors seemed the essence of freedom. Comraderie was also established as it would be in any social setting of this nature; cliques were formed, separations distinct, and loyalties evident. I am by nature a 'loner', but get along with most groups, so had little problem 'fitting in'. I recall now that the entire time I was feeling more comfortable and 'safe' than I had felt at home.

Leave Taking

Sunday, July 7, 2012, I met with the psychiatrist one last time and the logistics of exiting began. The doctor was surprisingly accurate-I saw him only twice during my stay-in his diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorder, and I was given 2 non-addictive medications to treat both; they have been very effective at keeping my symptoms at bay.

The leave-taking was terribly quick, it seemed-I had paperwork to inspect and sign, final instructions were given, and I gathered my few belongings. Saying 'goodbye' to my fellows was a strange experience, it felt as if I were no longer a 'part of'. I was being released.

Hours before I left, my husband called and told me he would arrive around noon-he actually arrived at 10 a.m. I was rushed out the door of my now comfortable place of solace to the reality of family and friends; though now I was armed emotionally to battle the demons that had gotten me there in the first place.

To my loving man I said, "I love you so, and thank you for driving so terribly far to pick me up! Now do give me a smoke, I need to breathe again."


Post Script

~I have been quite successful in adapting to my home situation since West Hills; I know few people who experience no stress at home. My time there provided me with emotional tools to handle the demands of daily life. Now I truly feel free.~


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    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 2 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      That's fantastic news! Sending prayers and hope your way, John. It sounds as if he's doing well.


    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you lorlie for your concern. My son- in- law seems to be improving and is now allowed to come home for the weekends. My daughter said he is mowing the lawn and seems to be less stressed. We are going (about 10 hour drive) to visit in a couple of weeks time. From what I am told he didn't admit himself to the hospital but he didn't fight it.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 2 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Sorry for such a late reply, John. I'm wondering 'how' your son-in-law was sent to this institution, whether it was voluntary or not. Actually, if his condition is terribly serious, as your comment suggests, it may not matter-at least it seems to me. Hopefully he will receive the treatment he needs. My sympathies also go to his family and their difficulties, I'm certain that family can make all the difference, but their support by phone and mail is also critical. All my best-keep me 'in the loop' if you wish! All my best, Laurel

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 2 years ago from Queensland Australia

      Thank you again for sharing this story Laurel. It sounds as though it was a positive at West Hills. I read this because my son-in-law who is in the military has recently been sent to a mental institution due to PTSD, depression and an attempted suicide. It is a difficult time for my daughter and their young son as well as he has been sent to a different city and she has no licence so cannot drive to see him by herself.

      Anyway your positive outcome was encouraging to hear, so I hope he receives the treatment he needs and is released soon.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 4 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Sounds like they did NOT take you seriously at all, Maggie. I suppose I am lucky to live in such a small town, I don't know. I've never had the 'flying knives' dream, but suicidal ideation-oh, yes. Sometimes I simply don't know when I should call 'them' at all. Oh my-'normal life'? Haha. What, I ask you, WHAT do 'they' know? I understand that the law has left their hands tied, but it leaves some of us breathless.

    • Maggie Crooks profile image

      Maggie Crooks 4 years ago

      I just found this because you posted it on I'm glad you posted it. I've been through a similar situation and also called the "funny farm" people. Since I lived in Washington, DC, things were a bit different. I called a crisis hotline and they told me to go to the hospital. After I went through intake there and talked to the local psychiatrist, he said he didn't think I was going to do anything to myself or anyone else, even tho I had been dreaming of flying knives for 3 nights. He asked if I was suicidal at the time and I told him I wasn't, so he made me an appointment at St. Elizabeths (yes, it's right without the apostrophe) Hospital for the next morning. That was a turning point in my life. I was an outpatient for several months and sad when they told me I could go back to a so-called normal life.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 4 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Yep, it's your old flame, doll-you've always made me blush, you cad, you! ;) I've always felt an affinity toward you, that we've much in common even though we've not gone into the undoubtedly gory details...damn, it's so great to be back in communication, Ed. I wanted to write to you more privately, though, but I can't find the old 'contact hubber' place on your profile-you are such a sweetie yourself-I can give you my email if you'd like-I sure would like to get to know you better! Hmm, not sure how to get it to you via email...ideas how to manage such a thing, dahlink? Let me know, k?

      PS: No pressure-HAHA! But if I am going to come back to HP, I'll need a mentor to help me navigate this site-it has changed so much!!!!



      PPS: I was just thinking; do I have your email address already? I'm not sure-senior moment apparently-so I'll go check my hotmail account now.

      Okay, I'm done....;)

    • ahorseback profile image

      ahorseback 4 years ago

      So How the hell did I miss this one ! You are so awesome and remind me of even myself ! You know what girl , you did the right thing ! For that that- I luv ya ! As always ....right from the beginnings here !.........Ed ----Thank you for being who you are !

    • mythbuster profile image

      mythbuster 4 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide

      Thank you for sharing your experiences, Laurel. Others who struggle with being overwhelmed may learn that reaching out for help is safe to do. I'm really glad you made a phone call instead of following your flow of thoughts when you became overwhelmed by emotions! HUGS

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 4 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Jon, thank you for stopping by to comment. I hope you're doing better, they say one of the hardest things to handle in life is ambiguity. I agree wholeheartedly with this theory-I hate uncertainty.

      But unless we risk, say, going to a hospital, we'll never know if would be beneficial for us or not.

      I hope you come back to read this comment-sorry it took me 2 months to find it.


    • profile image

      jon 5 years ago

      Thank you for posting this. I have been since so scared lately. Uncertainty does that some times. Simply knowing this option worked forth someone who sounds so similar to me is truly inspiring. Thank you

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Hey there, ladies!

      I am really doing well and to celebrate, my sweetie/ex-husband/live-in lover got remarried on April Fool's Day! We're very happy-actually we've been living together since '94, so things aren't much different, but it's a symbolic necessity, I suppose.

      Kelly, I'm not sure if there'll be a Pt. 3, but who knows?

      rg, tools for coping with anxiety and depression must be used and remembered daily, if not hourly. And I try to!

      Thanx for stopping by,


    • rgarnett profile image

      Rachael Fields 5 years ago from KC, MO

      Laurie! I am so glad that you got the help you needed and had the piece of mind to know you needed it. Well done for you! I hope that you are feeling better now and have some coping mechanisms for dealing with this for the future. I know, personally, that depression and anxiety does not go away simply because you commit yourself to an institution or hospital setting.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Hi Laurel! Oh I am so glad that you are feeling better. I read your account with great interest and yet - compassion for the fear you initially had. It sounds like it was really good for you - and maybe you can refocus. Your writing is as always, just fascinating. I couldn't wait to get to part two.

      Perhaps you can give us an update with part 3 = how is it going? How are you?

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      I so understand the struggle with different meds, sgfr! I also take 3, Lamictal being the one I consider life altering-I'm terribly glad to hear it also works in your life.

      Keep on keepin' on, as they say, my friend.

      Take good care,


    • schoolgirlforreal profile image

      schoolgirlforreal 5 years ago

      Hi Laurel,

      Since I got off Lithium over a year ago, it's been "miraculous." Thank you so much for suggesting Lamictal , it's been so good for me. I am now on only 3 meds. But I did need to ask the doctor today for some help with my depression. She would not give me an antidepressant, said it wouldn't mix well. So she gave me anohter mood stabilizer. I don't like to get on more meds- but as you know when you are suffering greatly it really isn't necessary.

      I talked with other friends with bipolar, they told me they had highs and lows, my lows are really bad.

      I'm glad I advocated for myself today. I have great coping skills but I really shouldn't have to suffer so much, especially since there are things you can do.

      I will try it tonight and so on.

      I really want to feel better.


    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      schoolgirlforreal-thanks so much for your honesty and kind words. It was indeed a scary experience, but also a healing one.

      Thanks for the visit!

      mandypoole-recovery and peace are certainly a long term goal, and I do believe I'm on my way!

      I appreciate your words...

      Hi Vern-Happy New Year to you as well! Your words are always welcomed here, and yes, we all should be treated with care at all times!!



    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 5 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Hi Laurel

      Glad and relieved you found the "mental institution" a place of treatment and healing. It is always interesting to me that "special" places, like a psychiatric hospital setting or a special ed classroom treat people the way we deserve to be treated ALL THE TIME. Seems "crazy" speaking of mental institution, that one requires a learning disability or a diagnosis to receive the best treatment and care which we all deserve again ALL THE TIME. I see some other hubs there on your profile page which appear to be further sequels, so I am off to check them out.



    • mandypoole profile image

      mandypoole 5 years ago from UK

      Very brave of you to open up your personal story, but by doing so you are helping many people. I am glad that the hospital helped you, and I wish you further recovery and peace x

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image

      schoolgirlforreal 5 years ago


      I'm proud to see you write this, it shows healing and strength of character I think to bare your soul but also so helpful to others to help them get help because many would of course find it scary thing to do.

      I went many years ago when I was sixteen and I've been a few more times over the years for minor things or you know like dealing with loss, anxiety meds adjustment, and stuff. I got help I needed etc. It's true the places mostly are much nicer than expected like you said the staff were and stuff. I'll talk to you more later. Thanks for sharing.

      It is important to share and let people know. Good job!

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Louisa, sorry about the delay in responding, but my puppy got tangled up in my keyboard wires and yanked out the wire-I had to find an old keyboard to reply! And with all the Thanksgiving mayhem, it took me until today.

      Your estimation of my writing ability is most kind; I blush, my new friend. I've never taken courses, though, I am self-taught and believe in the 'writing from the sub-conscious mind' school of thought. I sort of go into a trance and just write. I imagine it works for me!

      West Hills is a short-term placement hospital, thus my 3 days, though there were some patients there that had been 'in' for over 4 months-perhaps they were simply not ready to leave or had not 'stabilized'.

      My instructions-as well as the meds-were to see my psychiatrist/therapist and continue treatment, so the W.H. folks did have a 'long-term plan' for me.

      After reading your comment, for the first time I've considered writing a book. Never before. I thank you for giving this to me, really! Your ideas and suggestions are invaluable, Louisa.

      Peace to you during this holiday season, and all through the year!


    • Louisa Rogers profile image

      Louisa Rogers 5 years ago from Eureka, California and Guanajuato, Mexico

      Hi Laurel, so glad to read this, part 2. Many questions came up for me. You really are an excellent writer. Have you taken writing courses online or elsewhere? In my opinion, this could be a book. I don't know if you have any interest in that, but personal accounts of being in a mental institution are still pretty rare, and even though we live in a seemingly enlightened era, many of us, me included, do not know enough about mental illness.

      I thought it was funny and interesting that the same group dynamics in the world-at-large go on in the mental institution.

      I was surprised that you left after only three days. A mental institution conjures up in my mind lengthy stays for intense conditions.

      I was curious about what happened for you and your husband when he picked you up, your dialogue, the car ride... that must have been very full, rich, complex, maybe difficult. That's why I say this feels like there could be more.

      Fascinating material, thank you.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Thank you so very much for the scriptual advice-I'll look at my bible! bettybarnesb, I am so sorry you've gone through such horrible experiences but the spiritual strength you have is invaluable, I am certain.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you,


    • bettybarnesb profile image

      bettybarnesb 5 years ago from Bartlett, TN

      Hey lorlie6: I thank God that you are brave enough to share your story. I have found that we all deal with demons, if we live long enough. Happy to hear that you took steps to "recovery." There is a scripture that I would like to give you, Psalms 27 as well as Psalms 91. During my deep depression from an abusive marriage, these scriptures keep me and gave strength. You are a very special lady with the blessings of God upon your life. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

      be blessed...

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      drbj-so glad you came by to comment. Your words are always welcome, especially when the Hub was a difficult one to write.

      Bless you, as well,


    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      Happy for you, Lorlie, that your medications are working so well. I thank you for being so strong by sharing your experience with others who may be helped by your words. God bless.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Ah, thank you, dear friend!

      In health,


    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 5 years ago

      Wonderfully written dear. Thank you.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 5 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      Thanks so much for reading, diogenes-yes, as you say, one demon at a time, and depression is definitely en vogue, it seems.

      I'm glad you 'enjoyed' the story!

      Take care,


    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 5 years ago from UK and Mexico

      I enjoyed, if that's not a non sequitur, you story. I am surprised you smoke as this tends to lessen the blood flow to the brain in time. But i expect you know that and we can only address one sort of demons at a time. Depression is such an ailment of our times.