Hard times in the Puff

Client describes ‘abuse’ in Chico’s mental-health facility

Ms. Willis describes herself as a human-rights activist. She lives in Chico.

I suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, and also from a mental illness called bipolar 1 (previously known as manic depression) that is characterized by extreme “high” and “low” moods, decreased need for sleep, hallucinations and delusions.

I have lived in Chico for 24 years. One of my worst episodes was in 1989, when I was studying for a degree at Chico State (I now have a BA in religious studies), raising two children, and working at the Chico State library.

When I have an episode, I must go to the locked psychiatric health facility known as the Puff (from the acronym PHF) in Chico. Most who go there are poor and on Medi-Cal. The treatment of these patients is very unlike what the well-off receive.

The worst treatment I have ever received was in March 2008. I had been manic only one day when my outpatient counselor had to “5150” me (hold me against my will).

The first thing they did was give me a standard shot of Haldol, Cogentin and Ativan, also known as a “comatose cocktail.” I suffered a paradoxical effect from this drug; rather than going to sleep, I became increasingly manic, and then psychotic. I was put in restraints for 14 hours with no food or water. I was awake the whole time, often hallucinating. I thought I had lost everything—my family, my home, my life. I thought I had gone to hell, and that small room was where I would spend eternity.

After my eventual recovery, I filed a grievance with Patients’ Rights, and went to the Behavioral Health board meeting, which many Chico mental-health workers attended. The venue was the size of a high-school cafeteria, and it was packed with people. I told my story to all of them. But nothing changed.

There are many people at the PHF who are caring, who want to help; it’s an extremely hard job. Then there are those who are on a power trip, whose “care” only makes the patient feel worse about who they are and where they are.

I am writing this not only for myself, but also for other mentally ill people. Your relatives, neighbors and friends are being abused here, physically and mentally, on a daily basis. It is the responsibility of the community to help put an end to the kind of torture that takes place here. One woman cannot do it alone, but I am trying.