Pat’s Story: My Experience Surviving Timberlawn

The following is Pat’s story of her experience at Timberlawn Psychiatric Hospital; watch the video to see Pat tell the story in her own words, or read the transcript of the video included below.

I checked myself into Timberlawn in 1989. I was 29 years old and my father had just died and I was suffering pretty severe anxiety and insomnia. I picked Timberlawn because it was considered this ivy-league institution. And shortly before I was to be released my doctor began pressuring me to sign on for long-term treatment and suggested I use family resources to pay for it. They found out my family had money. 

I refused. When I refused, they tried to convince my mother to commit me claiming I'd suddenly taken a turn for the worse. She didn't. I wasn’t allowed to talk to anyone. I tried to sneak a phone call to my mother but  they caught me and they locked me in my room. I tried to get a letter out through a concerned patient but they intercepted it. I was completely isolated and alone inside Timberlawn. I had no idea how I was going to get out of there. I was numb with terror. I thought this was a nightmare that I was going to, surely I was going to wake up from. 

They transferred me to the long-term unit as if it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to be there. So I might as well just give up and sign on the dotted line. They tried repeatedly to break me. I spent what was two of the most terrifying weeks of my life on that unit until an attorney finally came and got me out.  

I found out later that at the time I was there Timberlawn was having serious financial trouble and they subsequently declared bankruptcy.  

I have lived with this for nearly 30 years and I've never gotten over it. It lives within me and I feel really alone with it because there just aren’t reunions for people like us. I tried to get the attention of local newspapers, local agencies, submitted complaints to the medical boards, no one would listen.  Because I was a psych patient and who’s going to listen to a psych patient? And what made it all the worse was that Timberlawn continued to enjoy a pretty stellar reputation. 

They ended up reopening under new management and they continued to abuse patients for decades until they closed this year. But they only closed voluntarily after the state threatened them with yanking their license and slapping them with a huge fine. So, there wasn't any accountability. There was no justice. 

I’ve wanted to tell my story for years. And not just my story, but the story of other people who were there at Timberlawn. I’ve decided to make a documentary about this. And I especially want to hear from people who were there around the time I was there, the 70's, the 80’s, the 90’s. 

Did this happen to you? Did it happen to somebody you know? Did it happen to a family member or a friend? Are you an ex-staff member who witnessed abuse but you were too scared to speak up? 

I want to hear your stories. 

This kind of abuse has been going on for decades and it has to stop. I'm hoping that by telling our collective story it will not only bring about a sense of healing, but it will also be a catalyst for change. That it will kill this cancer that is so systemic in the psychiatric system. We need to hold institutions and mental health professionals accountable. But I need your help.  

This is such an important story. It’s timely. It’s urgent. And this is our time to speak up and have our voices heard. 

Please join me.  

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