Letter: Trauma within the psychiatric setting

Alaska government agencies have mistreated acute care psychiatric patients forever and it seems like they just can’t stop even when there are acceptable alternatives.

There is a point where a state or state agency crosses the line from misguided to evil. A 2003 report by Karen J. Cusack, PhD. and others, in the conclusion stated up to 47% of the individuals who enter an acute care psychiatric facility will experience incidents of trauma that will cause or exacerbate PTSD. Alaska government agencies are aware of trauma research, yet the state of Alaska has developed no state wide hospital requirements that call for the recognition and treatment of institutional trauma before it becomes PTSD.

Employees at some psychiatric hospitals/ units see no downside to patient recidivism, trauma, PTSD. And state agencies in a public way have not told hospitals to care.

My own personal experience is relevant. As a young lady I was sexually assaulted. Later in an acute care psychiatric institution (4 months), men would walk into my bedroom hourly, stand next to my bed for routine safety checks. Men would walk into my shower for routine safety checks, my bathroom asking me to hurry up. I would often be “taken down” by 4 men to be given shots. I was not able to go outdoors into the courtyard to feel the sun on my face. I was not able to file a formal grievance. These are all things that are done to prisoners of war to break them. Better policies in recognizing and treating institutional trauma could have kept me from developing PTSD.

The Geneva Convention literally provides better rights to a prisoner of war than a psychiatric patient locked in a psychiatric institution would receive with Alaska state laws.

In the Grievance procedure for psychiatric patients, hospitals give themselves 7 days to resolve a grievance—the average stay for patients is under 7 days. If a patient files a grievance on the third day of their stay—patients are never going to get an answer to change their circumstances, even if it concerns physical abuse, medication errors, etc. State grievance laws for the disabled need to be improved.

There is supposed to be a trained patient advocate available to vulnerable psychiatric patients in institutions(AS47.30.847). The Department of Health and Social Services has never outlined what the training of the advocate is supposed to be and when the advocate is supposed to be available to the patients. As of now, the required advocate goes home at five, on weekends and holidays.

When you look at everything; when it comes to the care and protection of disabled psychiatric patients, a long time ago the state of Alaska, in our opinion, crossed over from misguided to evil. There is a way back, but only if the state starts the journey.

Psychiatric patients deserve to be involved in their treatment and recovery and to have rights and assistance that recognizes their disabilities—it should be a state priority.

Reference/ Research Information:

“Trauma within the psychiatric setting: A preliminary empirical report.”

By Karen J. Cusack, PhD, and others

–Institutional events 86% (handcuffs, restraints, isolation, seclusion)

–Sexual or physical assault 43%

–Coercive measures 38%

–witnessing traumatic events 26%

–verbal intimidation/abuse 26%

“Subjects consistently reported experiencing fear, helplessness or horror in response to these events.”

“On being Invisible in the Mental Health System,” a 21 page report by

Ann. F Jennings, PhD., includes a discussion how psychiatric institutions re-enact traumatic childhood events that reinforce mental illness/PTSD.–We would add through callousness and indifference.

We are on Youtube, type in Faith Myers Dorrance Collins. In a public way we ask for improvements in rights and quality of care for those with a mental illness.

Mental Health Advocates, Faith Myers/Dorrance Collins,