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Graf: The Fourth Floor

BY L.C. GRAF | APRIL 30, 2014 5:00 AM

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This is the fourth floor of Mercy Hospital:

Lockers outside, keys for visitors. You are not allowed to bring in backpacks, purses, or cell phones.
A giant gray door will prevent you from entering or leaving. The nurses need to buzz it open.

The common area consists of everything in a dreary, toned-down color.

Everyone admitted wears a no-tear blue smock. Pants can be your own, and colored grippy socks are provided. It is encouraged that you wear hospital-provided attire. Some people don’t, some people do.

The bookshelf consists of 12 Bibles in various translations, mostly New Testament, one Old Testament. Surprisingly, there is one Agatha Christie Mystery Collections novel.

The TV can only be on family-friendly channels. You may not watch the news. There is no Internet.
There is one old bike machine behind the couches.

There are broken crayons, colored pencils, and religiously affiliated coloring books.

On the upside, you can drink all of the chocolate milk or juice you desire.

The rooms are wide and empty. One bed, one dresser, a built-in shelf with sheets, pillows, blankets, and one desk. There is a strip of paisley pink-gray wallpaper along the top.

You can’t open the windows. You can’t have contact solution.

The bedroom doors stay open, the nurses walk by every 15 minutes.

I’m a visitor, I stay for dinner, but since I’m not an inpatient, I can only look at the menu. There are few vegetarian options, the quality of the food is drab. One scoop of mashed potatoes with yellow gravy. Cottage cheese with a peach slice. Another questionable item: a lemon bar, maybe. A packet of butter, a chocolate mint, and plastic, plastic, plastic but no recycling.\

After five hours, I feel alone, isolated, and sick. I’ve had an illusion in my head that a Behavioral-Care Unit (mental ward) would be bright, filled with books and music and have a quiet meditation area. I assumed that the activities to do in between group therapy and group movie (8 a.m. and 8 p.m.) would consist of things that would actually help people battle their depression. Maybe there is a place somewhere down the halls, but all I see are bedrooms and people milling around quietly. There are rounds of pills that you get once your bracelet is scanned, there is noise from the television, but otherwise, a cold, cold silence.

Most of these patients were brought in on a stretcher, carried out from an ambulance. Some of them walked themselves in. The rooms are designed to work long-term, but I’m told no one stays more than a week or so. The collection of people here are all suffering. A few attempted suicides, some are too anxious, someone tells me a story about their kids coming to visit. The world is cruel, hard, and dark. This place is, too.

This is the state of mental-health care.

As a community, I’m calling for action. Mental illness affects everyone, whether or not you are suffering or watching someone else. There isn’t going to be an easy answer, but it’s important to look around, ask questions, and listen. Step forward, join the cause, and start helping the people around you. Mental illness is a community issue, not merely a “personal problem.”


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