SB 1045 can provoke painful memories of a time when people with mental health challenges were warehoused in state hospitals for years at a time against their will with no true mental health support. Erik Henriques, our Peer Provider Manager for Marin Peer Providers, was conserved in state hospitals in the early and mid-80s. Each of his three hospital stays lasted more than a year-and-a-half. Erik shares the state hospital memories that inspire his opposition to SB 1045.
When I was 17 years old, I had run away to San Francisco and returned home to Grand Junction, Colorado where I made a suicide attempt. My parents had me hospitalized in a psychiatric ward in St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction for two weeks.
The mental health staff there thought I was not doing well with severe depression. They felt I needed longer-term treatment. They took me to the Grand Junction airport in a sheriff’s plane and I was shackled on my legs and handcuffed and I was taken with another patient to the same hospital.
If you ever seen a state hospital, in any state, they are these old buildings that were built in the 1920s and 30s back in the day when they really warehoused folks. It was a really, really, creepy place.
I was there until I turned 18. There was a lot of burned out, abusive staff. Many of them really didn’t have much clue to what they were doing. There was a lot of abusive chemical restraints used which were psychotropic pills and injections and also physical restraints. Back then, sometimes the side effects of the medications were worse than the symptoms I was having.
Adolescents being adolescents and trapped in that environment, often act out.
After nine, ten, months, they transferred me to an adult ward. These places, they just kind of warehouse you. You just pace the halls. A lot of the time was spent being idle.
I just wanted to be back here in San Francisco. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted freedom. As a young person, I was struggling with my sexual identity and coming out. I wanted some mentorship and guidance with that. Instead, I was just medicated and warehoused. There was very little therapeutic intervention.
I was in the early stages of my diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder. That eventually led me to the second hospitalization in the Denver area. Same old stuff. Chemical restraints. Physical restraints.
At the time, I normalized it. After a year and a half there, I had ground privileges and had access to somebody who could help me. I escaped from there, went to the Denver Airport, and bought a plane ticket to San Francisco.
I ended up hospitalized. Back in the day, Electroconvulsive therapy was really strong. It was a big suction cup they put on your head. They restrained you so your bones wouldn’t break when you were shocked. They put an IV in you for sedation. I would wake up and not know who I was or where I was at. It was really frightening.
A couple of years after I got out of the hospital, I connected with a therapist who I worked with for twenty years. She helped me put a lot of the pieces together.
We had a lot of work to do. There was a lot of trauma, then there were the symptoms from schizoaffective, and there was a lot of suicide attempts. She empowered me with the skills to really become an independent person.
I do peer-based work now. For folks on the street, do we want to round them up because they appear to be suffering or appear to be dirty and warehouse them again? There needs to be a more thoughtful approach like community based mental health treatment. There are wellness centers that are run by peers for peers. That’s helpful.