Michelle Neville: Retreat would cause great pain to Anna Marsh today

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My name is Michelle. I am a former patient of the Brattleboro Retreat. I am a 41-year-old pharmaceutical research specialist, a brain surgery survivor, transgendered, and suffer from severe depression and anxiety. Over my lifetime I have been in many hospitals due to my depression, due to bad experiences at hospitals, and also my living in different parts of the country. I found the Brattleboro Retreat during my struggle with depression in 2012. I am a transgender individual and I was very intrigued about having an inpatient program for the LGBT+ community; I was happy to try it. I found so much support and peace when I first went to this hospital and in subsequent admissions. I have been multiple times and due to the help of the hospital I experienced a period of no depression for over two years.

One of my favorite parts of the Retreat was the story of the founding of the hospital. In the 1800s the treatment of people with mental health issues was very troubling and painful. Anna Marsh, the founder, had been witness to some of this treatment and wanted something better. The hospital as stated on their website was founded on moral treatment: The basis of Moral treatment was founded on treating patients with dignity and respect in a caring, family-like environment that included meaningful work, cultural pursuits, wholesome nutrition and daily exercise.

I remember when I first went there, we had groups outside, sat in the rainbow chairs, and experienced a lot of different types of groups. I had art therapy from a real art therapist, music therapy, and really meaningful group discussions. It really helped me and filled my heart with great experience and put me at some temporary ease while I was trying to get my depression under control. I remember we could visit a gift shop and buy things, such as a sweet snack, or a special book.

The Osgood 2 Unit was so wonderful when I went there; very new, very clean, with a beautiful view of the pond. It had music, snacks, beverages, books, art supplies, and was really state of the art. The most important component to the floor was the mental health workers, nurses, doctors and staff who were all so caring and compassionate. They truly wanted to help and you could feel that.

Fast forward to 2019 and I returned to the retreat. My depression returned and I was struggling terribly. Apparently during my two years away a lot had changed. When I returned the place felt so cold; all the pictures and drawings from patients were taken off the walls, the bathroom doors were locked, there never seemed to be enough staff, and many things were taken away. No pool, no outside groups, no sitting in the rainbow chairs, little to no art therapy, no supplies, no cafeteria, and no physical psychiatrist presence on the unit. There was a TV screen where you would go in and talk to the doctor or be given a nurse practitioner. I was appalled by the fact that a patient struggling with a mental illness has no physical presence from a psychiatrist when they are inpatient.

I found the place was very run down, the windows had writing on them, and the beautiful view of the pond was so distorted due to the amount of filth on the outside windows. Also the staff had changed, and it very much felt like the Retreat stopped caring. I was not feeling comfortable at all, as there was always someone locked up in the confined unit and as a result there were less staff to interact with. I also had a particular incident as a result of a new practitioner who really didn't know or care about my history. I left due to the incident with the new practitioner, but eventually came back requesting a different practitioner. The first time they honored the request and I did not see the practitioner I had a bad experience with. However, when I came back again due to my continued struggle, they did not honor my request and forced me to see the practitioner I was not comfortable with. I left almost immediately after receiving word they would force me to see the practitioner I was not comfortable with regardless of my request. I continued to struggle but felt a sense of grief knowing the Retreat did not care or care to understand the struggle I was having.

I also have noticed over time the Retreat has really institutionalized the hospital in such a way that it does not feel comfortable for those struggling and seems to be more like a prison than a place of healing. Until the Retreat goes back to its original intent of moral care I cannot return. It's a sad day for me to acknowledge and accept that, but I pray that it will return to its original intent or a new hospital will appear in its absence that will honor and care for those with mental health issues with dignity and respect.

Michelle Neville writes from New Hampshire. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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