In the mental hospital

My friend has been sectioned again. The fire alarm has gone off, again: he tells us it goes off every time a patient smokes. At least this ward has a courtyard, so he can go outside- where I worked briefly those detained could not except with a nurse supervising them, and not at all in their first weeks in.

He seems less angry and manic than he did when he was taken in, but his delusions and preoccupations remain the same. On first encountering him, he can seem spiritual. When I met him twenty years ago his image of insect larvae in the rainforest dying, and uncountable souls ascending to Heaven, struck me. He quotes a lot from Buddhist scriptures. The longer I know him, though, the less profound he seems. He has a small range of subjects: Bodhisattvas, other Universes, reincarnation, suicide, prisoners on American death rows, rape and sexual assault of sex workers, how blessed it would have been to be among the 9/11 hijackers, and the wonderful smell of a woman’s genitals when she is ovulating. He repeats that Bodhisattvas can connect to their equivalents in all other universes, and has taken to loose internet metaphors, such as that the connection to other universes is a “Stone-age internet”.

In hospital, he is full of the skills he has learned to benefit the World: he has finally worked out the principles of the natural neutron internet, the one mountaineers use to navigate treacherous first ascents in atrocious weather.

He can be detained in hospital, or compulsorily medicated, if he is a danger to himself or others because of mental illness. He told me he was first sectioned in 1982 after he proposed that he could prove reincarnation if he ritually vivisected a particular woman. He was compulsorily medicated for decades, then won a tribunal, saying the authorities could not prove that there was a risk to anyone if he was off medication. He believed that the medication inhibited him from being in touch with spiritual reality. Off medication, he went hypomanic, was sectioned again, and put back on depot injections.

He won a second tribunal, came off the medication, again went hypomanic and was sectioned yet again.

He tells me he has a medical degree. He spent time as a child in Africa with his eminent anthropologist father, a Commander of the British Empire and Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He has shown me his father’s book, and I believe him about his degree. I do not think he would deliberately tell an untruth, though it is not always possible to tell when he is deluded. He joins Quaker spiritual discussions, but always shares on his small range of preoccupations, and does not seem to listen to anything others say except “I agree with you”.

Probably the depot injections will manage the hypomania eventually, and he will be released. He might even win another tribunal, and come off the meds again. He seems terribly angry about the medication, and I think with his father as well.

He has had a wasted, miserable life.

What alternative could there be to medication? Decades ago, he would have been institutionalised permanently, if not medicated then restrained by strait-jacket or padded cell. I imagine that would be more horrible for him, but the current medication only manages his symptoms, rather than curing him.

To cure him, you would need to convince him of the worthlessness of his delusions, and they are what gives his life meaning. I doubt he will ever surrender them.

3 thoughts on “In the mental hospital

  1. Your poor friend. I have known many like him. I have been in a mental hospital a good number of times or on the psych ward of a general hospital voluntarily many times, until I finally beat back my bipolar illness along with anxiety. Unfortunately I knew too many like your friend. I was always medically compliant, but that did not always work out to well. Eventually, it was the anxiety meds that held me back. I finally was able to see reality for what it was, which was fortunate as I was finally able to see that I was a woman. Mental health issues, it has been argued are worse than physical health issues. I actually met my partner of 30+ years in one of the hospitals. I feel that my experience in overcoming my mental health problems has allowed me to lead a richer life than maybe I would have without learning skills that led me to live a life of mental wellness. Anyway, do not give up all hope for your friend. Yes, the odds maybe against him, but there is always hope unless your dead.


    • I have had other friends who have been sectioned, and recovered. I don’t think the experience of mental illness is necessarily crippling, and as you say it can teach skills of receptivity, flexibility and living with unknowing. One friend was sectioned when she said she was a woman, and not allowed to express female in hospital, so she painted pictures, of herself as a woman. And this bloke is arrogant. He knows everyone but him is wrong.


  2. I am a longstanding admirer and follower of your blog but you have overstepped the mark of confidentiality here. You not only enable me to identify who you were talking about, but compounded your error by laying a trail of clues about his father. Please take this blog down. Not least for your value judgement ‘He has had a wasted, miserable life’. Warmest regards, Chris


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