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Personal Stories

Janet Foner

“My children were not born until a few years after I was in the hospital, so they did not know about it until I told them. My younger son immediately started crying. He was outraged that anyone could have treated me like that. My older son made a very insightful cartoon about how bad the mental health system is.”


09 September 1945

Contact info: New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, USA

Currently doing: Janet leads Mental Health Liberation workshops in many parts of the U.S. and other countries. She consults, develops leaders, writes policy, and serves as a board member of SCI. Janet is a wife, mother of two young adults. Her hobbies are making quilts, cooking and redoing various rooms in her house.

Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Forced treatment, Coercive treatment, Solitary Confinement, humiliation, patronized by some staff, cruel and unusual boredom, analysis as a “case”—especially by being “presented” at case conferences

Psychiatric labels: Schizophrenia

Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Thorazine, Stelazine

Off psychiatric drugs since:


Recovery methods: Self-help, Peer Support, One-on-one therapy, Diet, Social Activism (I consider this a way of life, not a recovery method), Art/Music(again, a way of life for me all my life, not a recovery method), getting a job, moving out of my parents’ house to an apartment of my own, getting married and moving from the city where I was incarcerated to another part of the country where no one knew me as an ex-patient, learning to sew, co-counseling

Greatest obstacle: The lies of the mental health system, i.e. the idea that you are a “mental patient” for life, there is something mysterious and wrong with you that no one knows how to cure. Had I not got off the psychiatric drugs, they would have been my key difficulty.

Brief History:

When I was “admitted”, I was told I was not being admitted or given papers or info or anything. I was in the admissions office being loudly upset, in metaphors. No one asked me or told me anything. The doctor called for reinforcements (3 people) who forcibly dragged me upstairs to the locked women’s ward and forcibly injected so much Thorazine into my butt that I passed out shortly thereafter. They put me in seclusion immediately upon drugging me.

The next day I wouldn’t take the drugs via pill as I did NOT want any drugs, so they injected me again. A few days later (don’t remember how many), I refused the drugs via pill again and they put me in seclusion again. If I had a choice I’d have NEVER taken the drugs, but they only actually forcibly injected me 2 or 3 times I think with Thorazine. The doctors said these drugs “helped” me, that they were not addictive, that I could do better in therapy with them. They NEVER told me what the effects were until after some of them occurred. No reasons were given at all for my solitary confinement.

The worst parts of being in an institution were being locked in seclusion twice (like one huge nightmare); being on drugs and not being able to stay awake, be aware, or move much, not to mention gaining 30 pounds; being made to stay there in confinement so long, boredom, not getting to go outside much. I wasn’t allowed outside at all until a month had gone by. Not ever knowing when I would get out. Activities that were patronizing, boring, or humiliating — if you didn’t go you were not “trying to get well” and VERY bored on the ward. Group “therapy” was a farce. Seeing most of the women on my ward come back from electroshock. Hearing them scream while in seclusion or restraint. Terrified the whole time that I would get shock. Hearing people’s very sad stories.

Seclusion felt like a complete nightmare. I was terrified beyond [belief], thought I was going to die or jump out the window—the window was tiny and barred. I felt like I was a spy in a spy story who was captured by the enemy and/or an inmate in a concentration camp during the Holocaust and that I was going to be killed any minute. My feelings may have been intensified by huge amount of drugs. I was desperate to get out of there and screamed for help — a logical reaction, interpreted as “mental illness”. No one told me I had to be quiet to get let out of there. I was VERY alone. It took years and years of Co-Counseling on other subjects before I could begin to talk about and begin to heal from the seclusion.

My group therapy experiences were terrible. Not helpful AT ALL because the psychiatrist (not mine) in charge of my group was very unfeeling and the whole process consisted of several patients “acting out” and the psychiatrist analyzing all of our feelings as a group in relation to whoever was “acting out”.

There were absolutely ZERO positive effects of the Thorazine and Stellazine I was given. Negative, many: sunburned very easily, numbed out, could not focus or think clearly or be aware or “alive”, “forgot” how to draw (scary, as I was a painting major), could not read, lost interest in sex, stopped having periods, was constipated a lot and had trouble urinating. First few days I vomited and had diarrhea. Heavy emotional “depression” that I didn’t have in such a severe form before the drugs. Hallucinations and “delusions” that I never had before or since being on the drugs. Did not realize this at the time, but a key negative effect was stopping or slowing in the process of emotional release, i.e. crying, trembling, laughing, etc. One day I could not move my neck at all. Currently I have many physical distresses in my body, showing up in the form of back pain, neck pain, etc., and I have a feeling these are related to the length of time I was on Thorazine. I basically lost almost two years of my life due to the drugs. The worst part was eventually believing that I “needed” these drugs to “calm me down.”

There was no really good part about the institution, but I guess the best of many not so great things was some of the friends I had among other “patients” there (we could have had better times elsewhere. . .), some friends from “outside” who visited me in the hospital, my parents visiting me regularly, an attendant who held nightly informal “meetings” about how we were going to get out of there.

Once off the Thorazine, I had no withdrawal difficulties and felt absolutely GREAT, compared to being on drugs. After my wedding day, I never took any psych. drugs ever again and at some point soon after that threw out the rest of the ones I had left.

Lots of people who know what I do for a living act scared of me, distant from me, feel like I am going to “fall apart”. When I got out of the hospital and wanted to look for a job in the mental health field, my cousin, who is a psychologist, told me he wasn’t sure I could handle that.

Recovery means two things to me. Recovery from the oppression and other distress imposed on us as “mental patients”. And recovery from the hurts we experienced as very young people, growing up. The latter needs to be done by everyone, whether or not they are ex-patients. On the other hand, if “recovery” is seen as meaning “recovery” from “mental illness”, I wouldn’t use the term at all, as I don’t believe there is any such thing as “mental illness”. We absolutely need to redefine mental illness. Let’s start by saying there is no such thing.

Most of my friends were extremely helpful in my recovery. My mother continued to assume I would be fine and that she would help me get where I needed to be, which included encouraging me to go out to eat with the family even though I felt people were talking about me, encouraging me to look for a job even though I felt I couldn’t get one. My dad was a paraplegic and even though very difficult physically and emotionally for him to visit me in the hospital, he did come on every visiting day. One time I felt like I would NEVER get out of there and he said I should take it one day at a time and I WOULD get out. He had been in a rehab hospital for two years, so he knew what he was talking about and this was enormously helpful. My children were not born until a few years after I was in the hospital, so they did not know about it until I told them. My younger son immediately started crying. He was outraged that anyone could have treated me like that. My older son made a very insightful cartoon about how bad the mental health system is.

The best peer support I have received has been from Co-Counselors and/or ex-inmate movement leaders whom I have taught to Co-Counsel. One of the best Co-Counseling sessions I ever had was with David Oaks when we exchanged ex-inmate stories. When I told him about being in seclusion, he said “We’re a little late, but we’re here.” This was VERY helpful and emotionally moving for me.

I won my human rights by getting out of the hospital, never going back, and co-founding Support Coalition, though in a sense, my rights as an ex-patient are still not secure. My work with re-evaluation counseling and the survivors’ movement has been very good for my recovery. Specifically, in terms of getting me over my fear of “coming out”, helping me heal emotionally from the mental health experiences, and getting me to realize I am in charge of my life. I would never choose a different kind of life. I often say to people, “If you decide to lead ‘mental health’ liberation, you will never be bored again!”

[photo revised 27 Dec. 2010]

Year told: