While caregivers regularly denounce the catastrophic state of psychiatry in Europe, Alexandre Macé-Dubois, journalist, infiltrated a psychiatric ward by pretending to be schizophrenic. Today he is releasing a book and telling us about his disconcerting experience.
You faked schizophrenia to get yourself committed to a psychiatric hospital. Why did you have this need to go see for yourself?
Alexandre Macé-Dubois: There were several reasons for this. I already have several friends who went through the psychiatric hospital, whom I saw sink and whose daily life was made up of medication, but very little support. It moved me.
Then, as a journalist, I too regularly read columns devoted to psychiatry which warn every month and every year about the lack of resources of this poor relation of medicine. The figures are often overwhelming, we are talking about 30% vacant positions.
Finally, I wanted to give a face to these interned people, often “invisibilized” by society. It is not an investigation, but a testimony, of the daily life of the people I was able to meet and of a system running out of steam and resources.
Your rapid admission, the disjointed arrival at the emergency room… What appealed to you the most?
My goal is not to overwhelm anyone. But what really shocked me was the fact that the nurses are completely overwhelmed in these departments. In the emergency room, we are unable to see the doctor on duty, there are screaming patients who need care, others waiting on a stretcher, disoriented…
In the end, patients and nurses are the ones to be pitied the most. Patients are left to their own devices as soon as they arrive, and staff are constantly understaffed, working long days, and only have medication to manage the situation.
Medication is omnipresent in your book and your experience. Is this psychiatry today?
Yes, that’s my observation. We are more about “care” than “taking care”. Due to lack of resources and time, we find ourselves in a policy of all medication, which we administer to patients as soon as they enter. So of course, treatment has its place in the middle of a crisis, but giving medications that can make you addicted, for 1 year, 3 years or a lifetime, is not a way to help them.
We can also speak of this drift as contention or isolation. An appeal, which I have not seen with my own eyes, but which is still denounced in Europe by the Council of Europe. While we are the country of human rights.
Before you, other journalists have attempted this same immersion. Has the situation changed?
The reference on the subject was Nelly Bly in 1887, who, I think, must have experienced much more shocking situations than me. Journalist Hubert Prolongeau also tried the experiment 20 years ago. But in the general spirit, I think that what has not changed despite the years is this same idea of exclusion, of putting aside people who are not like us, who experience mental disorders, and our distant relationship to madness.
What hasn’t changed is this act of parking people who are different and this relationship with sick people, which we still don’t want to see.
Finally, does the psychiatric hospital make you sicker than you are before entering it?
It’s not me who says it, but others have often in the past compared the asylum to a mad factory. I think that the psychiatric hospital can help and can treat. On the other hand, this quasi-prison system, which offers little activity, few possibilities of reintegration, and very little listening, can make us even more “crazy” in quotes than we already are, yes.