Joshua* is in his late 20s and has been to Mount Carmel, Malta’s main public mental health facility, three times in his life. During his last experience, he was sent to solitary confinement for seven days, leading to what he describes as a downturn in his personal mental health and hygiene. He recounted his time inside to Lovin Malta.
Now I want to be clear from the beginning – I have had a history of depression, I’ve been on antidepressants and I’ve been admitted to Mount Carmel three times already, and I do not want to throw muck on the institution which has some great and caring workers within it.
My personal issues boil down to circumstances in my relationship with my parents, and the cycle I often go through in my battle with depression. Usually, periods of my depression are followed by periods of intense mania – basically a flurry of work and creativity, where your mind is constantly rushing.
It was during one of these periods that I began fighting with my family. I don’t mean physically, I mean emotionally, with raised voices.
At the time I was getting high off my medicine, Venlafaxine, and I decided to voluntarily admit myself to Mount Carmel to be assessed. After being placed in a transfer ward, I began getting withdrawal symptoms from my lack of medicine. I felt like a drug addict, strung out on coke or heroin, and my body felt like a rock, and I was feeling very shaky.
The doctors and nurses were really good there… but I became very depressed with the political situation on the island.
What I was hearing in the news, about how corrupt and undemocratic it all is here… I was really feeling bad inside about it.
Then it hit me – it wasn’t my fault Malta is corrupt. It’s everyone’s fault.
And when I realised this, I got angry… really angry. During a session with the psychiatrists, I began throwing things around and flipping out about Malta’s political situation. My psychiatrists were telling me to calm down… but I just couldn’t, I really couldn’t, and I kept telling them the same thing.
“Fuck you, fuck you and fuck you. Fuck all of you.”
After an hour of this, I was taken to a cell, all while shouting “well, now I’ll have to process all of this on my own!”
And then I was thrown into a cell by myself for the next week.
I was having a mental health crisis, and their decision was to put me in solitary confinement.
They don’t call it solitary inside of Mount Carmel – they call it MPU.
I spent seven days there, and I felt really alien… it’s really hard to get attention there. I needed attention, to speak to people, so I began shouting, screaming and singing constantly.
The worst thing I did was get naked in front of some nurses.
I was all alone in a box. I would wash my clothes in the toilet, a literal hole in the ground… I had to learn how to squat poop, and had to tell them to do everything such as turn on the lights, and often times they ignore you.
That first day, I lost track of time in there. There was a window and I tried to follow my biological clock, but at night, it became scary… it was really hard to get the nurses’ attention, and I didn’t want to wake up the other patients so I would tap or whisper to get their attention but it didn’t work…
Then I got naked. It was my choice to be naked – simply because I was trying to get their attention. At times, I found myself on my knees, naked, begging them to let me out.
I had to wash my clothes, so I washed them in the toilet bowl after I had defecated… no one had told me otherwise, and I needed to start thinking outside the box, especially when I was locked inside a box.
I felt like I was having my senses taken away from me, so I began to rub the walls and it was like I was feeling artwork, or a breast.
I didn’t know if anyone was alive. All I had was my wall. There was piss on the wall. It was in bad shape… it was okay, but you knew people had done things in that room before you, and it hadn’t been cleaned.
Other people were banging on their walls constantly… the only thing that kept me sane was singing: ”ikkalmaw, ikkalmaw, ikkalmaw, il-veru alla qed ġo fikom…”
My room had a good echo. It was the only thing that kept me sane for seven days. But I could never imagine myself staying there for a month.
I just wanted to speak to someone, but they said I was going through a psychotic episode… but they were the ones driving me nuts.
They said they were trying to calm me down, but in the process they were breaking me.
Stepping out of solitary confinement was like breathing for the first time.
I was sent to Admission Ward Three – and it was the complete opposite of what I had just gone through. I found social care, empathy, drawing, crafts, all the food you needed… And my progress has basically doubled since then.
One day they even got McDonald’s for us, and had a BBQ another time, and took me out for walks… it was the best ward.
But I’m still traumatised by those seven days… and god only knows how long some other people have been there.
And I’m still angry about what happened to me till today.
Solitary confinement should not be in place anywhere, not in prison, let alone in a mental hospital. Humans are social animals, we crave social attention, and think putting people in solitary confinement even when they aren’t aggressive will help?
If you support solitary confinement, I invite you to spend a week there. Then you’ll really know.
The solitary confinement could have worked for one day, maybe two – but seven days? I could have lost my mind in there… if I didn’t sing and shout and pray I would have seriously lost my marbles.
*Names have been changed for the individual’s protection.
If you or someone you know needs to talk to someone about difficult situations, substance abuse or mental health, please call 179. Alternatively, visit www.kellimni.com to get in touch online.