From horror to hope: Why Europe’s psychiatric care needs a revamp

Guest article by Belle de Jong

In January 2020, I had a psychotic episode. What started as extreme paranoia slowly turned into psychotic delusions; I convinced myself I was patient zero of the COVID-19 virus and thought I was responsible for a global organised crime network.

Too paranoid to leave the house, a friend who practiced psychiatry came to my place and talked with me, ticking off a list of questions for psychiatric patients. He decided it would be best to bring me to the emergency department and speak to the psychiatrist there. After spending a night in the hospital, undergoing all kinds of tests, the staff came to the conclusion that I was psychologically unwell and had to go to a psychiatric hospital.

Malta has one psychiatric hospital, Mount Carmel. The gate at the entrance reads “Asylum for the Insane”, the name it was given in 1861, reminding everyone that this is not a place many people end up voluntarily.

I spent a little over a week in Mount Carmel, where my mind could run freely. The worst of my delusions was the one where I realised my visitors would be tortured chopped up after seeing me, and I had to eat them for dinner afterwards. The best one was where I believed I was being transformed into a cyborg, and Elon Musk was going to send me to Mars as the first human to live there.

While I was afraid of everything, the high doses of medication turned me into a zombie. We spent our nights in eight-person dorms, while the heavy metal doors were constantly slammed shut throughout the day. It wasn’t unusual for patients to aggressively bang on and scratch the doors. Most patients were mumbling bizarre conversations to themselves and smoking inside whenever the door to a tiny concrete patio was closed.

It’s safe to say that it wasn’t the hospital that helped me heal. It was my family and friends who made sure to use every visiting hour and the caring but overworked staff who wanted the best for me who helped me get out of there as soon as possible.

Three years later, I am fully recovered and advocate for better mental health care, knowing I am far from alone. In the EU, almost 1.5 million people are living in institutions like Mount Carmel.

What is meant to be a sanctuary for those struggling with mental health issues is often anything but a safe haven. The last thing psychiatric patients need is a hospital that will remain with them in their nightmares.

That’s why mental health care in Europe is in dire need of funding and transformation. Psychiatric patients deserve humane and community-centred care. It is crucial to leave lunatic asylums in the past and provide people with the care they need and deserve.

Disclaimer: the opinions – including possible policy recommendations – expressed in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of EPHA. The mere appearance of the articles on the EPHA website does not mean an endorsement by EPHA. 

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