The Cuckoo’s Nest Stigma

Jon Hochschartner spent time in a psychiatric hospital and left with a positive view of them:

When I tell friends I was hospitalized for 19 days, they’re horrified. Generally their reaction has less to do with what they think might have landed me there than with the brutal conditions they assume I must have encountered inside. In their imaginations, I barely escaped without having my frontal lobe scooped out with a spatula. This wasn’t my experience at all. Instead I found a supportive, nonjudgmental community made up of staff who quickly diagnosed my problem and fellow patients whom I count as friends today. Granted, the hospital at which I stayed, Four Winds Saratoga in upstate New York, is private. Perhaps some public hospitals are so underfunded they amount to detention centers for the mentally ill. Places like Four Winds should be socialized, and the quality of mental health treatment provided there should be made available to everyone.

The film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest played on television one day and, enjoying the irony, we patients watched it in our housing unit’s common room, laughing frequently with self-awareness. Hoping to share the joke, I told the doctor about it when he next did his rounds. While mildly amused, he said nothing had done more to prevent those who needed help from seeking psychological treatment in general, and electroconvulsive therapy in particular, than that movie. ECT saves lives, he insisted. Indeed, I’d guess that as many as one-quarter of the people on my unit received ECT—voluntarily, it should go without saying. And all spoke positively of its effects.