Any Oklahoman with an interest in mental health issues would do well to read the article titled “Asylum” that appeared in the December issue of This Land, a new Tulsa-based monthly magazine. The article is a vivid first-hand account by Jennie Lloyd (note: initially we stated, mistakenly, that she wrote under a pseudonym), a Tulsa mother of two, of the week she spent in a state-funded psychiatric facility following an attempted suicide in September. After Jennie disclosed her intentions to her boyfriend, he called a mental health crisis line, which led to her being taken into protective custody and placed under an emergency order of detention (ED). Without insurance and unable to find a bed in either a public or private inpatient psychiatric facility in Tulsa, Jennie ended up committed to one of the state’s 15 publicly-funded community health centers, the Oklahoma County Crisis Intervention Center in Oklahoma City.
Her account of the week she spent in the facility is harrowing – days spent in 24/7 lockdown in tiny rooms, overworked staff dealing with the most severely troubled victims of mental illness, an absence of any kind of therapy or exercise, a shortage of doctors and nurses. At one point, Jennie rants against her conditions to a social worker, Roxanne:
After all this, Roxanne softened a bit, and said, “Well, one of the reasons you’re here is because you don’t have insurance. When you don’t have insurance, this is the type of place you end up.”
I stared at her; I had no retort for that. She was right–these places don’t have much funding, and what funding they do get is slashed year over year. On the surface, I understood that I’d been sent to this stripped-bare state-funded hospital because I had no insurance. I go to school full-time and take care of my young sons–two occupations that don’t provide a great benefits package. But does that mean I, along with all the other suffering patients I hung out with, don’t deserve good, quality mental health care? Is this what Roxanne was intimating?
For Jennie, the story ends on a note of hope. Before being discharged from the hospital, she writes in her journal:
Despite every hardship, every bad word, every f***-up, every failure and prayer, every desperate act and missed call, every disappointment and violence, every act of God and man, my most primal self will not surrender. Even when we fight with ourselves, we often lose.
“Asylum” leaves us wishing fervently that Jennie, with love from her family, newfound resolve, and appropriate medical care, will keep getting better. But it also forces us to ask hard questions about why the system fails to provide good, quality mental health care to all those who need and deserve it, and what must be done to make things better.