How To Escape from a Psychiatric Hospital

How To Escape from a Psychiatric Hospital

Nobody wants to be on a psychiatric ward, and this is especially true for the patients. That’s why we’ve created this comprehensive guide to escaping. If you are ever sectioned, just follow one of the three methods below and you’ll be back in the “community” in no time, enjoying such freedoms as being able to smoke a cigarette without asking for permission, and expressing your emotions without somebody with a clip-board noting down how they relate to your “illness”.

Method One: The Runner

What You Will Need: Some running shoes, a good hiding place

If you are on a ward with only one door between you and freedom, simply hang around by the door. You should try to look innocent, maybe pretend to read some of the posters on the wall about “recovery”, or whatever other patronising crap they have up. You get a lot of traffic in and out of psychiatric wards, mostly due to the ridiculous number of “professionals” in the system. Sooner or later a social worker, nurse, doctor, advocate, health visitor, psychologist, student, ward manager, solicitor, occupational therapist, pharmacist, or some other pointless bureaucrat will open the door – that’s your chance to make a run for! Most of the time they won’t even bother to chase you, just mark you down as AWOL on the notice-board and carry on with their paperwork and tea-drinking.

If you have some leave, this method is even easier. If you are being escorted just make sure it is by a fat nurse who smokes a lot of cigarettes (there are plenty of these on the wards) so you’ll be able to outrun them no problem, even if the combination of high-dose medications they’ll no doubt have you on has slowed you down a bit. If you have unescorted leave, even better! Especially if it is a few hours as you’ll have time to get pretty far away before they notice you are gone.

Once you’ve escaped they may come looking for you, and they can involve the police. However it isn’t likely they are going to launch a nation-wide manhunt for one escaped psychiatric patient (unless you conform to the media stereotype of a mentally ill person who likes running down the street, naked, with a meat-cleaver while screaming that they are the only true prophet of god). Also, don’t do anything silly like return to your home address, or stay with a relative who is likely to be in agreement with the mental health team that you do indeed need to be locked up.

Advantages: This is an exciting method of escape that gives a real sense of empowerment. If you stay away for long enough, or leave the country they’ll give up looking for you eventually.
Disadvantages: If the police do pick you up and bring you back to the ward, the doctor will no doubt place a huge amount of restrictions on you to prevent you from trying it again. It will also give them an excuse to detain you for longer. Some people find being a fugitive from the law a bit stressful, so if you are not a Bonnie or a Clyde type of person then this method is not for you.

Method Two: Play The Game

What You Will Need: Good acting skills, some knowledge of psychiatry

This method is based on understanding how mental health professionals think. What you have to remember is that they really believe that the patients are suffering from some kind of biological illness and need medication in order to be “well”. As ridiculous as these ideas may sound, they really believe this, and have often had many years of training to back this up. Obviously the more training they’ve had the more they believe this stuff. For example a fairly new student nurse may still see the patients as distressed human beings who need somebody to listen to them non-judgementally and offer emotional support – but a consultant psychiatrist will be certain that the patients are “unwell” and need drugging to the max (some of them even believe this so much that they have even written books on the subject!). So you are never going to have any luck convincing these people that their views are wrong and yours are right (especially on the ward where you are the raving psychiatric patient and they are the highly trained professionals).

An important psychiatric concept to understand is “insight” – if a patient does not believe they are ill and need medication then they are said to lack ”insight” into their condition; the cleverest part of this concept is that psychiatrists say that this lack of “insight” is actually caused by your “illness”. So basically if you don’t agree with them that is just more proof that you are ill!
So for this method to work, you have to pretend that believe that you have an illness, and that the medication is helping you. In ward rounds or any meetings with professionals it is important to say things like:

“I was unwell when I came in, but I’m feeling a lot better thanks to the medication”
“I would be happy to stay in hospital if I wasn’t on a section”

And NOT to say things like:

“This medication is just turning me into a fucking zombie, I’m not taking it!”
“I’m not mentally ill, I’m possessed by evil spirits, get me a priest immediately!”

If you keep saying the right stuff, you’ll be out in no time. If you have actually been possessed by evil spirits please keep this to yourself.

This is one of the most popular methods of escape, in fact it has been estimated that 95% of patients who manage to leave the wards do so using this method. I once read a quote from a patient who that said they kept giving her ECT (that’s seizure inducing electric shocks to the brain, widely used in the UK in-spite of people thinking it is some horrible relic of history that was banned along with public executions and badger-baiting). Every time after they had electro-shocked her brain they asked if she felt better. She kept on saying “No”, so they kept on giving her more ECT. Eventually she figured out if that if she said “Yes” they would stop giving her ECT, and it worked! This was of course recorded as a successful outcome and used to prove that ECT works; but the main thing is she was able to escape using this method.

Note: some patients, especially those who have had psychotherapy, make the mistake of trying to convince their psychiatrist that what they are experiencing is a result of some childhood abuse or other trauma rather than an illness. This will not work. Even if you spent the first 18 years of your life locked in a damp cellar, eating nothing but fish-heads, this will at best be seen as a “factor” contributing to your illness or at worst a delusion created by your illness. It is much better just stick to the mantra: “I have an illness, the medication is helping” and you’ll back living amongst us “normals” in no time.

Advantages: This is a tried and tested method which yields good results.
Disadvantages: This method sometimes can take a long time, and requires some skill (if the staff feel that you are just telling them what they want to hear they won’t have it – you really have to convince them you believe their nonsense). There is also a very real risk that you’ll take the acting too far and actually convince yourself that you are ill and need medication – many patients have fallen victim to this (the psychiatric profession calls them “successful outcomes”) so be careful!

Method Three: The Tribunal

What You Will Need: A solicitor

In the UK, if you are detained under the mental health act, you have the right to have your case heard by an independent tribunal. In reality this normally means you’ll have to sit in-front of three old men for an hour listening to all the reasons you need to be locked up for your own safety, before being told 5 minutes after the tribunal that they have decided, on careful consideration, that you do indeed need to be locked up for your own safety. Still, sometimes people do actually get discharged by a tribunal, especially if they have a good solicitor. While some mental health solicitors are passionate about fighting for patients’ rights, a lot of them are just going through the motions while dreaming they were earning a 6 figure salary sat behind a great big swanky desk like their friends from law school instead of having to scrape the legal aid barrel.

Still, going for the tribunal is definitely worth a try while you are honing your acting skills for “Method Two”, or plucking up the courage for “Method One” above. Preparing for a tribunal may also give you something to occupy your mind on the ward (that is if you don’t find the fortnightly patronising pottery classes stimulating enough). In the tribunal you will have a chance to speak and give your reasons why you think you should be discharged from hospital – but you are not allowed to shout “objection” like you see on the telly.

Tribunals can be extremely boring, but one way to stay awake during the proceedings is to play a game called “Mental Health Tribunal Bingo (MHTB)”. Write the following words on a 3 * 3 grid:
RISK, CONCERNS, NATURE, DEGREE, INSIGHT, UNWELL, MEDICATION, ENGAGEMENT, COMMUNITY. Every time you hear one of the words mentioned, circle it. Try to make a line across the grid, or fill the whole thing. (Note: if you win, don’t actually jump up and shout “bingo” like you would do at a real bingo hall as this is not likely to help your case).

Advantages: Definitely worth a shot. Even if your tribunal is unsuccessful, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you made the bastards do a load of extra paper-work.
Disadvantages: Mental health professionals are experts in making it look like they know what they are doing (in-fact around 95% of their job involves doing this) so most of the time they’ll convince the tribunal that you need to be sectioned.

So please do go ahead and give these methods a go, and let us know how you get on. Also we’ll love to hear about any other methods that are out there. Take care everybody and remember, RECOVERY BEGINS WITH NON-COMPLIANCE!

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51 Comments on "How To Escape from a Psychiatric Hospital"

  • Lori says

    Brilliant. You’ve hit the nail right on the head – had a good laugh.

  • CRose says

    Appreciate the laugh, thanks! Need to have more options in my pocket!

  • Amazing! :) looking outside our square :) love it!!

  • Brilliant. I no longer mistake loony bins for safe shelters from a husbands, so I haven’t presumed upon their hospitality for almost 20 years. Here is how I used to try to get out.

    Jane Austen at Hillside Hospital

    In October 1994, I was in the middle of a painful manic episode. I hadn’t slept for days. I needed an immediate adjustment in my meds and was unable to contact my psychiatrist. I went to Hillside Hospital, Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Impatient at the long wait and desperate for sleep, I joked, “I am Jane Austen and this is my husband Adolf Hitler, and we need a marital evaluation.” Of course, Jane got locked up and haldolled in submission, and Adolf went home. This was not my brightest move. My former psychiatirst had trained at Long Island Jewish, and I thought humor was an essential part of the curriculum.

    I wrote my usual troublemaking letter to the head of the psychiatric department and the head of the hospital, asking the following:

    1. Are there any compassionate, competent psychiatrists on staff?
    2. Is the patients bill of rights some kind of sick joke?
    3. Should I insist that my lawyer accompany me to this thinly disguised jail? Is a manic depressive diagnosis a new way of taking people political prisoner?
    4. Does LIJ investigate whether staff members, particularly the late night shift, have ever been reported for child abuse?
    5. Was revealing my status as a social worker a suicidal gesture, given the level of hostility it would arouse in some insecure staff members. “Oh my God, one of us could be one of them?”
    6. Have you ever considered hiring a former patient to evaluate and assess the psychiatric stability of staff members?
    7. Is personal psychotherapy required of staff members or are patients expected to provide that gratis as part of their treatment plan? Do their insurance companies know of this arrangement?
    8. Do staff members have any responsibility to deal with anguished patients in the middle of the night or are they entitled to react like those anguished patients’ abusive parents?
    9. Is LIJ psychodrama where you have the opportunity to re-experience all the traumas of your past life?
    10. In line with prevailing philosophy, why not drug all patients into total oblivion and hire computers to do the paperwork? Perhaps patients with insomnia would like to heal their peers? Perhaps some anesthesiologists would be interested in moonlighting? Or some great Danes?
    11. Is desiring to listen to music and see bright lights after midnight bona fide proof of having lost control and being an acute danger to oneself and to the whole community?
    12. Am I my sister’s or brother’s keeper if they are not paying me?
    13. What should a patient who is also a professional do when she witnesses numerous instances of psychological abuse and harassment perpetrated against utterly vulnerable people? The abusers are primarily interested in catching up on their sleep, reading newspapers, watching television, acting out their own undealt with conflicts with God knows whom. Does my promise to uphold the NASW code of professional ethics become void at LIJ?
    14. Wouldn’t I be better off in a friendly loving place like my old room in my mother’s house with a radio, cd player, my Mac, where no one treats me like a bratty five year old and threatens quiet rooms and restraints for disobedience and talking back?

  • Gareeth says

    Back when I was younger and more frequently locked up I only ever saw one person actually use the tribunal method. Here it never works. It automatically extends your certification and in her case got her shipped to an even more secure and horrific place.

    I did do a much less subtle version of the runner, (where being on close observation and therefore in theory watched with hawk like intensity I nevertheless broke into my closet for those all important clothes (they use yellow pjs here to give you quite a disadvantage in blending in) packed my bags and headed straight to the elevator. When a brain injured patient called out my name loudly and enquired if I was leaving, I replied in the affirmitive just as loudly and boarded the elevator. 1400kms later…)

    It was the right move for the situation I was in the time no question. No one including my usual psychiatrist ever questioned it. (He did have a two week job of convincing the hospital one to call off my national APB though during which my brother’s friends amused themselves by making siren noises) That being said there are those times when you have a decent doctor (sadly rare) where being compliant for just a little while at least can work out .

  • Prepper says

    I find that countering the threat of forced psychiatry for me involves preparation.

    If you don’t have at least some money you won’t be able to. I sacrificed and saved and now have:

    A secret, stocked with canned foods camp site in a remote location.

    A lawyer paid to carry out yearly practice runs on what we would do if the psychiatric human rights abusers ever come for me again.

    A passport and cash to escape.

    One day will defeat these disgusting people but until that day it pays to be prepared in the event of an emergency.

    Another good one is making it WELL KNOWN to everyone in your family that they will cut off by you for life if they ever play a hand in calling psychiatry on you.

  • antipsychsocial worker says

    …I will say that an awful lot of MH practitioners totally agree with you. It’s not a biological “illness” and people do need understanding. Some of us are antipsychiatric in nature and work in the system to be a pebble in as many psychiatric shoes as possible.

  • Mary Newton says

    I think one little-discussed solution is not going to a psychiatric hospital in the first place.

    Going there may be a ‘solution’ for your family or friends or bystanders or the cops they called because your behavior disturbed them, but it is NOT likely to be a good solution for YOU. Get that through your head, and think of some alternatives ahead of time, while you’re still calm and rational.

    I once went to a psychiatrist when I was worried about strange things going on in my head, and asked him whether he thought I was crazy. He said no, because I wasn’t acting crazy. Wow, I thought, is that all there is to it? They just go by the way you act? If you never act crazy, then you’re not crazy? It’s not what you think that makes you crazy, it’s just how you act?

    On the other hand, I knew if I tried to talk to the guy any more, I WOULD start ‘acting crazy’ (that is, expressing my anger) because I was getting very frustrated in trying to communicate with him. Solution: I had to be very polite, and get out of his office as soon as possible and never go back. It was truly a crazy-making place.

    In other words, I realized then and there, like Jane above, that loony bins are not safe shelters from abusive husbands or any other problem, and I had better make it my business not to risk going to one. If there was strange stuff going on in my head, then I needed to keep it there, behind my eyes, and not let it boil over and disturb the people around me. I didn’t let anything make me ‘act crazy.’

    And that, in a nutshell, is it. I’m not saying it was easy. It was the hardest thing I ever did, but it made me grow up and learn to handle my own problems and behave myself. I went back to school, raised three kids, had a career and I’m now enjoying my grandchildren and retirement.

    And I’ve never regretted my decision to leave that psychiatrist’s office and keep my mouth shut. I think my life would have been very different if I hadn’t.

  • I have particularly enjoyed being ‘The Runner’ on many occasions. Most exhilarating and a much needed boost after being forced to the floor and injected for simply asking to speak to someone. Luckily they find 5 staff to do that when they say they have none for talking! Facebook and Argos surfing must be so mentally exhausting for the poor lambs. Planning holidays and boyfriend troubles are just what we crazies love to listen to!

  • Brilliant

    I will send it out through me elist

    Douglas

    • speakoutagainstpsychiatry says

      Thanks!

  • dru8274 says

    Awesome article, loved it.

    In addition to what you’ve said above, there are certain kinds of patients they don’t like. Reverse-Psychology-101 for manipulating psychiatrists…

    If you confess that you like acute psych ward because the food and power is free, and you’re saving up for a laptop, they may start writing up your discharge plan.

    Or if you become super needy and helpless, and confess how much you like acute-psych, coz you’re lonely and there’s lots of company, and you don’t have to cook or do anything for yourself… They just loath NEEDINESS, coz for some patients that can lead to chugging panadol over and over again, just to get themselves re-admitted.

    • speakoutagainstpsychiatry says

      I like these reverse psychology ideas, very clever, and knowing how psychiatrists think I could really see them working.

    • happygardener says

      Oh yes that is a brilliant one! I never thought of that as an option!

  • Yeah, I was really stupid the last time I was in. I appealed my 180 day commitment, plan two, while I was lecturing my doctor that antipsychotics can CAUSE psychosis and that was why I didn’t want to take them.

    During the first commitment hearing I started to lecture the district court judge that there was no such thing as a chemical imbalance.

    Because I was behaving myself and my representative agent backed me up about not taking the stuff, they didn’t force the issue. They just waited for the 30 days commitment to be up and committed me again, 180 days.

    I just had to be true to my truth you know.

    So that is when I pretended compliance. I told my doctor I would not take this and that kind. She said she’d give me one I hadn’t heard of at the lowest dose.

    I cheeked. I wasn’t risking that they’d end up chancing drug induced psychotic symptoms!

    Then the good doctor upped my dose. I cried, I pleaded with anyone who listened. The doctor told my social worker not to be concerned. I would not care in a few days.

    I was mouth checked by one or two nurses who usually did check everybody (but not when It was just me. I got my anti at an odd time) and I would quickly swallow. But my upset about taking the meds made most never suspect I was non-compliant.

    I did try to behave in meetings with the shrink, but everywhere else I was preaching liberation. Patients, staff, even the medication management teaching nurses. I was thrown out of class by the way.

    I was exploding, but when I complained to the MD I was not happy about the increase of meds. She said she would put be back on the high dose of Navane I was on the last time I was discharged. I begged her no. I had so many negative symptoms. She said, “You don’t seem to be experiencing any with this medication.” Was she on to me? I began to act dopy and complained of being sleepy all the time.

    They would have kept me forever, but remember my appeal. BYW,the circuit court judges are not puppets of psychiatry. The just never heard the other side.

    The new director came strolling through the unit. I jumped him. He had read ANATOMY. I told him what I had done in a psychosis five years ago that the psychiatrist told the district judge needed to be controlled happened during an abrupt anti psychotic withdrawal. I would have never done that if I had been taught properly about that danger in medication management.

    He asked me when my appeal was.

    Yes, in exactly a week I was discharged. And the nurses had caught me cheeking too. I got out the day before my appeal.

    Not a recommended method!

    I prayed a lot.

    For more:

    https://www.madinamerica.com/2013/04/more-than-surviving-speaking-up-about-life-in-the-american-mental-health-gulags/

  • Emms says

    I’m in hospital now. The staff don’t care. I’m on section 3 that has been renewed. I like the bit on the leave I will have to do that. Thanks for your help. Peace!

  • Hannah says

    Haha I love this. I’ve used all 3 methods over the last few years of frequent hospitalisations. When I was sectioned for the 1st time I ran away several times by either jumping over the back fence in the normal acute ward but once I was moved to secure picu I had to wait until I had escorted leave to run away. Unfortunately every time the police brought me back. After 6 month on picu was moved to another secure unit where I realised after about 10 months there I had to play the game to get out so I pretended to be better & faked engagement in therapy etc. it did take a good while though until they finally decided I could leave. I did attempt the tribunal method when I could too but it failed. But when hospitalised again in picu under a section 2 I applied for tribunal & won. It was a pretty funny tribunal cos it was ward round day so the consultant sent a junior doctor in his place who had never done a tribunal before & the panel were decent & pretty hard on him & they ate him alive. It was pretty funny cos they destroyed him & his reasons why I should be kept detained. My cpn even said after it was a bit uncomfortable watching him squirm in his seat. So yeah all 3 methods work. None of them are perfect though. Method 1 is good if you want a few hours or a days bit of fun. I used that when I was bored if the ward & wanted to have fun with my friends & get drunk. Method 2 is good when you want to get out & stay out but it does take a lot of time. Method 3 is what you should always do but don’t get you’re hopes up it hardly ever happens. Out of all the tribunals I’ve had & tribunals of fellow patients I’ve known I’m the only one who has been successful & that was only once. If only there was a 4th method.

  • Anna says

    How true! This was just my experience. If I resisted or disagreed–well, that was further proof of how “ill” I was. If I pointed out how my diagnosis didn’t fit–further proof it was spot-on. I took my 5-drug cocktail like a good girl because compliance was the ticket out. Problem was, the drugs made me worse and I ended up back on the psych ward again. My psychiatrist, who didn’t waste time faking respect for me, wouldn’t listen to my frequent requests to at least modify my zombifying drugs. So I figured out I had to quit him and the drugs. For five months, I cut back the drugs very slowly. Then I forgot to take my much-reduced dosage. Wham! Bad reaction. Back to the ward. All credit to the psychiatrist who suggested, “Maybe it’s just a reaction from going off the drugs.” (See, they know the drugs can mess you up.) Was I going to admit to that, however? That would mean a long stay and going back on the “meds.” So I lied. “Oh, I haven’t taken the drugs for two months now.” I put on a big performance, even to faking I was asleep at night when I was awake due to withdrawal. “I just have to go back to the outpatient program.” My fake message: I was a bad, stupid psych patient and now I realize how great you all are. I messed up. The act worked. I got out asap. Never went back. And now I’ve recovered.

  • bar says

    RISK, CONCERNS, NATURE, DEGREE, INSIGHT, UNWELL, MEDICATION, ENGAGEMENT, COMMUNITY

    the skipping scratched CD of their cacophony.

  • Annette Monckton says

    Great work! Loved your article! All rings so true! I too found myself locked up in the psychiatric ward for 21 days after an episode caused by sleep deprivation. I played my own game with them and didn’t take the medication. They really didn’t know what to do when I came clean and told them, especially after they said I had improved and was better. Not one person would listen to how I managed to find myself in a different frame of mind! I kept the pills, took images of the physical injuries caused by the staff and used every opportunity to analyze the system. As a result, I published my first book called Crazy Normal Normal Crazy. It provides a detailed insight to the system and how I managed to get in and out! I knew I didn’t have an illness and this book is testament to that. Hopefully in time it creates more awareness to improve the system and help others that are mentally displaced. If you’re interested the book is available through http://www.lulu.com Thanks again for publishing your article! It gave me a great laugh and it was comforting to know that many others have faced the same treatment (not that it’s acceptable). Good luck with your future endeavours!

    • Francesca Allan says

      Loved the SOAP article. For myself, I’ve tried various methods but the only one that I found worked reliably was just to agree with everything I was told.

  • Ibrahim says

    Good article!

  • Thanks so much for this wonderful, screamingly funny (and true) article. I thought of a couple more. One is to demonstrate to them that you aren’t worth saving, so insurance won’t bother paying for your stay. Another is to develop some medical problem. This will cause a liability issue for the hospital. You could actually croak while under their roof and they are very scared of a lawsuit because this might damage their reputation…they are far more scared of this than they care about human life. Another method I’m thinking of is outright vandalism of the premises. You could simply write some nasty swear word on your room wall with one of those kindergarten crayons they give you…try to find a permanent marker if you can. I saw in the “Unit Policy” that this was grounds for immediate dismissal. Hmm. Even on a section? Or you could fake a very bad conflict with another patient. We try to help one another, but “staff” see it as “interfering with treatment plans.” So that, too, being the “helpful one” could get so annoying to staff that they might want you out of their hair. Or have an affair. Fall in love. Love is great. Have sex with someone you love and if the two of you get caught you can both go out and be free. Or one more thing. Just have some annoying mannerism. Develop laryngitis so your tone of voice is all scratchy and no one can stand to hear it. That’ll get on everyone’s nerves. They’ll want you out of there. You’ll even overhear them talking about how they want to get rid of you as soon as you’re about ten feet away. They think we are hard of hearing and have no intelligence.

  • Fighting Stigma says

    Then a person who is being treated in our hospital sees this, escapes… and commits sucide.

    • speakoutagainstpsychiatry says

      Or they don’t escape, get released on a huge amount of anti-psychotics that they don’t want to take but are bullied into taking, and commits suicide. This happened to my friend. Don’t fool yourself into believing you are helping people. You call yourself “fighting stigma” – the only way to fight stigma is to stop labelling distressed people with made-up illnesses.

  • Sabine says

    Great job! It’s really good to know what to do in such circumstances.
    As for myself, I have tried the first two. I used the first with the help of another patient who was just coming back from a smoke; I made it all the way to the elevator but a young nurse caught up with me as the doors were closing. He forced me back and with the security in sight I had no other options. You can guess what happened after I was taken back… picu and this time around two sets of doors to break out of. I ended up staying until they discharged me.

    The second method worked only partially. Even though it sped things up, it wasn’t entirely as quick as I had hoped.

    Thanks again!

    • speakoutagainstpsychiatry says

      Good to hear you got out eventually :)

  • Darcy says

    Made me laugh – first time in a very long while !
    Tried method 1 last week unsuccessfully – wish I had come across your site first, then I might have had more luck !
    Going for the tribunal method next week, not holding out much hope :(
    Can anyone give me an idea of what percentage of appeals ( am on a section 3 ) are successful ? Wondering whether it’s a waste of time as I am building my hopes up for a successful outcome ?

    • speakoutagainstpsychiatry says

      Sorry for later reply, I hope you got discharged by the tribunal. From what I’ve seen most are not successful but it depends on the panel you get. I’ve seen good tribunal panel tear the “professionals” apart, but normally you get three dinosaurs who agree with all the bullshit. I’m not sure on percentages but I’m sure the data can be found somewhere.

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