Anthony S Lipinsky
“The worst part of the mental health system is that there are so many well-meaning professionals that look at you as a lesser order human being–a human being who has to be controlled, made dependent, ordered about. That is not the way to treat a person who has a tendency to be depressed and suicidal. That is the perfect way to create depressed people by making them dependent, making them different, and making them feel that they stand out in a negative way.”
Contact info: Portland, Oregon,USA
Currently doing: Tony is the Employment Coordinator for the DaVinci Employment and Education Program in Portland, Oregon. Tony also enjoys spending time doing creative writing.
Mental health experience: Inpatient, Outpatient, Commitment, Psychiatric Drugs, Forced Treatment, Coercive Treatment, Restraints, Solitary Confinement
Psychiatric labels: Seasonal Affective Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Chronic Depression, Bipolar Disorder
Psychiatric drugs taken in the past: Zoloft, Prozac, Effexor, Trazadone, Depakote, Paxil, Neurontin, Wellbutrin, and others
Recovery methods: Self-Help, Peer Support, One-on-one Therapy, Diet, Exercise, Consumer-run Groups
Greatest obstacle: The formalized mental health legal system and social prejudice against those diagnosed as “mentally ill.”
I first came in contact with the mental health system in 1995 through participation in a free screening process for depression at a local hospital, where I was diagnosed with severe depression.
I was referred to an excellent counselor who started me on Zoloft, which had little effect. I was depressed, having money and job troubles. I had no motivation.
She then put me on Prozac. Within sixty days of being on Prozac came my first active desire to end my life. She spotted this behavior in me though I tried to deny it. She notified the police, who came and picked me up. They tricked me out of my place by saying that they had gotten a report that I had threatened somebody else with a gun. Of course I was shocked as I never wanted to harm anyone else. I walked outside to tell them that wasn’t the case at all. Six cops tackled me, in front of all my neighbors.
They brought me to an emergency ward of Portland Adventist Hospital. In the ward I was completely frantic. I did not particularly like being tackled by six cops and embarrassed in front of my neighbors. I was practically naked and handcuffed to a gurney.
They immediately decided to hospitalize me. I’d say it was more like incarceration.
The first night in the hospital, they medicated me with Trazodone to make me sleep because I was very agitated. The next morning I met my first site intern who prescribed Effexor (another SSRI). I think it is rather strange that two medications of that type did not work very well for me, but they went on to prescribe a third.
Within days, I moved directly from being agitated, fearful, and withdrawn to very positive. You might say I was slightly intoxicated. I really did not give a damn. I was getting free meals and a bed. I began to make friends with other patients there, all of whom were on some sort of medication.
Unfortunately, I soon became manic and restless. Instead of changing my medication, they gave me Trazadone to counteract the side effect. They then tried medicating me with a mood stabilizer called Depakote. They felt with these three medications they were going to have some kind of balance. That balance was like a seesaw. They said this was normal and that I’d have to get used to it. I was now defined as mentally ill and therefore I would forever be taking medication, no matter what the side effects were.
They then told me that they were going to put me in this halfway house with a bunch of lower-functioning people. I made it clear that I was not going to accept that, and told them that I wanted out. Well, they didn’t like the tone of my voice and said that I was being threatening.
Two orderlies came in, threw me to the ground, brought me to an isolation room, strapped me flat down on a mattress, and then shot me up with something. I was numb and unable to move. This went on for eight to twelve hours.
I realized very quickly not to anger any of the staff whatsoever. But the doctor still decided that I wasn’t responding to their “help,” so I was transferred to the back ward of the Portland, Oregon State Hospital, which makes Portland Adventist look like heaven.
But because I behaved myself and didn’t even whimper about the conditions, within five days I was promoted to the “nice” ward. Here there were clean floors, you had T.V. , and could go out for walks.
I got along well with the staff. They interviewed me and we analyzed where my suicidal ideation came from. We decided it was from severe traumatic incidents in my childhood, the loss of my mother to cancer, and other things. It was all very interesting because I’m basically an intellectual person and I wanted to understand my problems. I got to know the chief psychologist, and he gave me papers dealing with some of the issues that I faced, which kind of enlightened me. I felt I was really making some progress.
Then again the same thing happened. I disagreed with the staff very loudly about some issue. It wasn’t like I wanted to get on a window ledge and jump, or to beat up on them, but they threatened that if I didn’t behave, I could be considered criminally insane and kept permanently.
I was under an agreement to a court order for being committed so I had no legal rights. There were rights posted on the wall, but when I told the staff that I disagreed with the treatment I was getting and I wanted out of there, a couple of other orderlies were brought over. I was threatened with being put in one of the isolation rooms or back down to the nightmare ward unless I straightened up.
Then things started improving. They put me in touch with an organization which had connections with vocational rehab; shared housing options in the outside world; and good weekly case management. I was even able to get into a computer training program.
But I was having serious side effects on the Effexor. I was totally impotent and I had severe mood swings. They said they couldn’t do anything about the impotence as all antidepressants usually have that side effect, and that I should probably just learn to live with it as it’s better than being suicidal.
I got in trouble for awhile with misdemeanors, and was getting increasingly depressed about the legal entanglements I was involved with. I was breaking the law, which is unusual for me, and nothing seemed to be working out. I was again getting suicidal.
At that point, they decided to put me on Paxil–yet another one of those SSRI’s. Within two to three days, I was on the top of the world. I was Mr. Confident and I was going to be President of the United States, after which I’d probably graduate to the Pope and God. That was the way I was looking at things. It also had another interesting effect. I was down to about three hours of very restless sleep per night. Yet all they did was cut the dosage in half.
I started sleeping relatively normally and became upbeat–so upbeat that within two months, I got four moving violations after not having had any for ten years. I was running red lights, weaving in and around other vehicles. People would cut in front of me and I’d run them off the road. I was Mr. Road Rage incarnate. I ended up having to spend around 30 days in jail.
At that point, I could see these people were never going to do anything for me. I sometimes was on Paxil, sometimes I wasn’t. I was tried on Depakote, Neurontin, Trazodone, but nothing worked. Finally I said, “I want out of your program.”
But I couldn’t have the shared housing because I wasn’t part of the program, and wouldn’t follow their instructions in terms of medication. So I became homeless.
I found out about Ritchie Place from another consumer that I met on the street, and went there because I needed someplace to get free food and a shower. I was put in touch with a case manager and a prescriber at Network Behavioral Health Care, and I recounted my history. This prescriber immediately said, “it sounds like those medications aren’t working for you. Let’s try a different kind.” He prescribed Wellbutrin for me. I’m on it to this day with no side effects. The impotency is gone, and I have no severe mood swings.
Today I have a healthy, normal lifestyle, my own apartment, a professional job, and a sense that I’m dealing with my diagnosis. I do suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Seasonal Affective Disorder. But nobody in this environment has ever said that I’m limited to being “mentally ill” and dependent on medication for the rest of my life. I can’t tell you how important that is, because the worst part of the mental health system is that there are so many well-meaning professionals that look at you as a lesser order human being–a human being who has to be controlled, made dependent, ordered about. That is not the way to treat a person who has a tendency to be depressed and suicidal. That is the perfect way to create depressed people by making them dependent, making them different, and making them feel that they stand out in a negative way.
I’ve seen enough of the mental health system: hospitalization, outpatient care, and the case manager halfway-house environment. It’s all the same. You get the stamp on you, you get a legal report on you, and everything you do is viewed in that light. You don’t have the right to be eccentric. You don’t have the right to be like everybody else. Theoretically the whole point of the mental health system is to allow you to be like everybody else–but they do everything they can to make you not like everybody else.
I am currently the Employment Coordinator for the DaVinci Employment and Education Program, a service that provides employment and educational opportunities for consumers who want to work in the mental health services field. Until we have consumers in the field telling the clinical professionals what it is really like, this whole rotten system is never going to change.
Interviewer’s Comments: Tony is an animated, humorous, delightful storyteller. He is also living proof that damaging “treatment” practices, such as forced drugging, isolation rooms, polypharmacy, and denial of basic rights (to name a few) are not just remnants of an archaic past, but are still used, and even state supported, to this day.