My name is Vanessa de Largie and I was involuntarily locked up in an Australian psychiatric ward as a teenager. If it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.
I was 15, attending an elite private girls’ school, thanks to my elderly parent’s super funds.
It was a day that began like any other:
• Public transport to school
• Prayer in the school chapel — to that big imaginary dude in the sky.
• First three lessons.
• Then lunch at the cafeteria.
As I sat with friends, I felt anxiety envelope my entire body. I needed to be by myself. I needed to leave the crowded cafe which was making me feel alarmingly claustrophobic.
I went to the computer room and attempted to work on a school assignment. After a few minutes, I started to relive what I’d witnessed the night before.
My brother Damian was bashing my mother over the head with the telephone earpiece.
As I relived this memory, I pushed the computer keyboard off the desk and was apparently in the motion of pushing the computer off the desk as well.
When I came to, I was being held down by a librarian and two teachers. What had just happened? I was terrified.
The school counsellor arrived. The cops arrived. My parents arrived and I was involuntarily admitted to the psychiatric ward.
It was like living in another universe. Some of the teen girls had been locked up for months. They had posters on their walls and trinkets on their bedside tables. The psych ward had become their normal — their home.
Half of the ward was heavily sedated. The other half were refreshingly cray-cray.
There was a girl in the room next to mine who feared tree sap because of the sexual abuse she had endured.
Next to her room was a girl with anorexia who drank out of a baby’s bottle. We would communicate with her by sliding written notes under the door. She was banned from talking to other girls in the ward. But as she gained weight, she gained privileges.
I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder due to the family violence I had witnessed since I was nine at the hands of my addict brother.
Most of the time I found myself heavily sedated. My own mother wasn’t even allowed to take me out of the ward for lunch.
I was involuntarily imprisoned yet the only thing I had done was respond to the terror of living with family violence for most of my life.
I didn’t need to be locked up and drugged. I needed love and tenderness. It was my brother who needed psychiatric help yet he was out in the world — free.
After my mother was turned away. I was more determined than ever to escape my hell.
Myself and the other psych ward inmates hatched a plan. The following day when we were allowed outside in the yard for exercise. We would climb the massive tree and go on strike in protest of being admitted to the ward.
And that’s exactly what we did. I wish someone had taken photos.
They would have captured a big hospital tree with seven or eight kids sitting on different branches.
They would have captured a growly senior nurse who reminded me of a dragon spitting fire.
I can’t remember how long we stayed in the tree or what brought us down. Hunger and our bladders I’m guessing.
That was certainly a horrible time in my life. It ended my schooling and caused decades of shame.
But looking back, climbing that tree was a radical rebellion. A rebellion in which I am very proud.
You see, detaining adolescents in psych wards who are victims of family violence can scar and damage them for life.
According to Beyond Blue, one in seven young Aussies aged four to 17 experience a mental health condition and one in 14 experience an anxiety disorder.
These young Australians require compassion and protection. They certainly don’t need to be treated like insane perpetrators, like I was.
Recently, the Morrison government pledged $328 million to combat domestic violence with an extra 78 million that will be used to provide emergency safe places for women and children.
Let’s hope that this is the beginning of positive change for kids living in violent households throughout the nation.
Because I don’t want any child or teen to have to go through what I did.