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I was wrongly locked up in a psychiatric hospital for A YEAR at age 15

I was 15 years old when they locked me up in a psychiatric hospital.

I spent 353 days away from my teenage life, forced to spend up to 12 hours a day sitting in a chair and staring at the wall.

The experience prepared me for a lifetime of traumatic memories, which still haunt me now, at the age of 52.

My sickness? According to my doctors, I had major depressive disorder and was a risk for me.

This was a shock to me, since I was not feeling depressed.

Six years after my year-long hospital stay, my suspicion that I had been falsely imprisoned was confirmed.

I learned that the ordeal was part of a money-making scheme devised by the Texas hospital.

A subsequent legal investigation revealed that the hospital was keeping children in the unit so it could collect insurance money. School counselors were financially rewarded for sending kids like me to the psychiatric unit.

Still, all these years later, now that I’m happily married and have a job as a backpacking guide, I often wonder, how could this have happened to me?

The ordeal began in 1987, with a skateboard.

My friend from school had broken his and, wanting to be a good friend, I offered him mine and bought him a new one, hoping that we could continue skating together.

Interestingly, the school counselor thought my sudden burst of generosity was a sign of deteriorating mental health. I was parting with my “most prized possession,” he told my mother.

I suppose this out-of-the-ordinary gesture was not helped by my ‘skate punk’ phase, which I entered around the time my parents divorced, several years earlier. Maybe it was a response to my mom treating me like a reminder of her ex-husband and the life she wanted to leave behind, passing from relative to relative.

Still, my mood was nothing you wouldn’t expect from a hormonal teenager.

Despite this, my guidance counselor somehow convinced my mother that I was at risk of suicide because I had given my skateboard to a friend after buying a new one.

In just 24 hours, the whole thing had been blown completely out of proportion and I found myself being taken to a mental hospital.

“It’s only for two weeks,” my mom said, giving me a hug. ‘For an evaluation.’

Banning Lyon was 15 years old when a counselor falsely informed him that he was suicidal, which led to him being locked up in a psychiatric hospital for nearly a year.
Banning, now 52, ​​has published a new book, The Chair and the Valley, which details her ordeal in the hospital and coming to terms with the trauma. Pictured: Guiding ban in Yosemite National Park in 2012

The first night, I was told to sleep in a small room with an adult roommate.

For three weeks, I had intermittent sessions with a doctor, lasting perhaps 10 minutes at a time, for evaluations. He assigned me a battery of personality tests.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) and the doctor insisted that I remain in a “long-term unit for adolescents” at the same facility.

The unit was much worse than I had ever imagined and a disturbing world to immerse myself in.

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With no outside access or even a telephone, he was surrounded by a dozen teenagers, many of whom had been tied to wheelchairs or beds for weeks or months at a time.

I shared a room with a boy who slept with his hands and feet chained to the bed and spent his days immobilized in a wheelchair.

Another boy, who I eventually became friends with, spent 333 days immobilized in his bed.


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The hospital also prohibited us from speaking privately. Even my roommate and I had to stay six feet apart.

We resorted to teaching each other sign language or banging on the walls after the lights went out just to communicate. Even if we were discharged, we were not allowed to exchange phone numbers or addresses.

It was a traumatic bond and, at times, it felt like a family.

Every aspect of our lives had to be approved by doctors. Our clothes. The books we read. Our weekly visits with our parents. Everything was supervised.

I was only allowed to be alone when using the shared bathroom.

Our doors had to be closed at all times if no one was in our room. I kept forgetting about this because I was 15 and they were going to give me a disciplinary ‘trial grade’. This meant 30 minutes of “chair” – being forced to sit in a chair, feet flat on the floor and facing the wall.

There were other small infractions that seemed to add up. One day I walked into my room and jumped on my bed.

A voice coming from the room scolded me: “Prohibition, that’s an exam grade.”

Jumping, apparently, was just for recreation time. “We’ve noticed that you’re needy lately and jumping in at an inappropriate time is attention seeking,” the staff member said.

When I apologized, he said I was “being too meek.”

In therapy sessions, I kept asking when I could come home and why I was here, which the doctors kept blaming on my “depression.”

In the end, I behaved so badly that they gave me a ‘permanent chair’. For up to 12 hours a day I had to sit in a chair in my room, with my feet on the floor and my hands in my lap. No talking, no eye contact, no escaping except for “school” and group therapy.

Despite all attempts to be on my best behavior after that, I stayed in the chair until the day I left.

After he was finally released from the hospital, Banning was sent to a rehabilitation facility for six months before returning to live with his mother. He spiraled into depression and suicidal thoughts, but didn’t officially see a therapist until he was 39. Pictured: Banning during his senior year of high school.

Group therapy often seemed like a way to further humiliate ourselves. Each session lasted an hour, but sometimes we were put through six a day because the staff said we had “a lot to work on.”

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During one of these sessions, the staff forced a 14-year-old girl to admit, in front of me and at least a dozen other people, that she had a crush on me. She cried.

It was the opposite of therapy.

Meanwhile, school involved a teacher from my district visiting me for a few hours several days a week, while the rest of the week was spent in a dorm-sized “classroom” with all the other kids and a teacher. .

My dad visited me only twice during my year-long stay, even though his insurance paid for it. My mother visited me every week, but she was under the watchful eye of a member of staff.

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We only had 15 minutes, but if I ever asked my mom to take me out of the hospital, the staff would cancel the visit immediately.

Interestingly, the only way someone seemed to get fired was if their insurance ran out. There were children trapped in the unit for three years because their parents’ policies continued to pay for it.

At some point, I realized that if my dad’s insurance was going to run out, I would have to play the good little patient.

I tried to talk about anything that made it seem like I was making progress. Whether it was my parents’ divorce or a girl problem, I needed something, anything, to talk about.

Finally, 353 days after I was dropped off at the hospital, my father’s insurance decided he no longer needed to be there. Instead of going home with either of my parents, they sent me to a rehab center for six months.

“It will help you get back to the outside world,” my therapist said.

Once again, I was surrounded by kids my age, but at least I was allowed to make friends with them and attend public school. I loved my stay there and it became a rewarding experience.

But after I left and moved back in with my mother, I began to realize the damage that had been done.

The outside world seemed impossible to tolerate. Nothing made sense anymore. People laughed and shouted. They argued and yelled at each other. There was music and lights everywhere. Something as simple as walking into a grocery store made me feel like I was going to fall apart.

At school I started fantasizing about committing suicide. I became bitter and resentful. All that remained were the memories of my friends screaming and crying as the staff restrained them and tied them to their beds.

My anger and fear drove me inward, away from people and the world. I felt like I was falling apart. The hospital ruined me and I didn’t understand why.

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Banning married his wife Regina in 2017 atop the Yosemite Mountains, and Regina walked three miles in her dress for the photo above. The couple now have a three-year-old daughter.
Banning now works as an outdoor guide in his home state of California. He said that he now has an obligation to go to therapy and be proactive with his mental health for the sake of his wife and his daughter. Pictured: Backpacking ban in Kings Canyon National Park in California in 2011

And then, several years later, I learned the truth of what had happened to me.

One day, while Mom and I were out for lunch, she told me what happened after visiting us in the hospital.

Once we all returned to the unit, the doctors told the parents that their son would probably commit suicide if they took him home.

My mom told me: ‘I would die, honey. You’re my little one.’ Within a couple of weeks, I discovered that two friends from the hospital were suing the company that owned the hospital for insurance fraud.

A lawyer told me that the state of Texas had fined the company for paying bribes and kickbacks to school counselors who referred patients to the practice.

I joined the lawsuit with more than 60 other former patients. Everything was resolved out of court, although the company ultimately had to pay a fine of $379 million, one of the largest ever imposed for health fraud.

A few years later, the doctors sued us and our attorney for defamation, although that suit was dismissed, but not before I was saddled with a bill so enormous that I had to file for bankruptcy.

During our lawsuit against the hospital, our attorney took me and a friend to Bellevue Hospital in New York City to meet with a doctor who would potentially be an expert witness in our case.

After talking to him for several hours, he looked at me and asked, ‘Do you want to know what I think?’

He said: ‘You suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and need treatment. What you went through in the hospital is horrible. That wasn’t therapy.’

I was 39 years old when I finally decided to try therapy. I had just moved to my home state of California and had frequent flashbacks to my hospital stay. I interviewed several therapists before finding one I liked and I have been with her for 13 years.

I still don’t like therapy, but I know I need it. I think it’s like going to the gym. I don’t enjoy the process, but I enjoy the results.

Now, at 52 and as a father, I have an obligation to people other than myself to be as good and healthy a person as possible.

There is still a core identity that I have inside of me that is somehow convinced that what happened in the hospital is my fault. And I have to fight that urge every day.

The Chair and the Valley: A Memoir of Trauma, Healing, and the Outdoors by Banning Lyon is available now.

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