The forgotten and the “Hell in Ueckermünde” [Die Hölle von Ueckermünde] Has anything changed in German Psychiatry’s since the wall came down?
by Christian Discher
In Germany, politicians and social research institutes campaign under the claim that we live in a society, in which all people are to be included: older people and people in need of care; disabled people; women; homo- and transsexual people, as well as transgender people; children; the sick; men; and immigrants. Universities receive millions of euros in funding, so that they can begin and maintain research projects focused issues facing “inclusion“. However, due to the mighty cleave between theory and reality, results in research rarely become established practical behaviors or values. Still, a closer look at the concept of inclusion makes it clear: Germany has a long way to go before it can be considered an inclusive society. In the debate over discrimination and exclusion (Inklusion/Exklusion: Stichweh 1997), the public receives hardly any information about the fate of those who, due to a particular psychological disturbance, are forced to live in psychiatric wards. Mainstream media does occasionally report on particular offences, when an acutely ill person is institutionalized. Nonetheless, the difference between mentally ill criminals and mentally ill people is not highlighted. (legal foundation) Meanwhile, depression and eating disorders are widely recognized. Such is as well the case with schizophrenia only with the difference, that the schizophrenic, after being released from treatment, is rarely able to find a place in our society. The latter are those who make us anxious on the subway with their loud announcements the stalking methods of secret government services or CSI. Others beg and attempt to convert their audience. An honest question: who, when confronted with such people in the bus or on the street, doesn’t feel anxious?(Discher: 2015) That the diagnosis of schizophrenia or psychosis – now known to be rooted in a diseased metabolic system – leads to paranoid thoughts and socially inacceptable behaviors, […] Clarification is not provided by mainstream media. Yet, in the case of many diagnosed schizophrenics, this diagnosis is ungrounded. As C. was seventeen years old, he was treated in the intensive care unit at the psychiatric and psychotherapeutic clinic in Ueckermünde. Stettiner Haff (August 2014) In 1993, when the ARD compromisingly distributed the report, Die Hölle von Ueckermünde Hell in Ueckermünde [by Ernst Klee] the media reacted aggressively. (Moussavian) The inhumane involuntary commitment in the psychiatric wards that took place in this period of the GDR called for worldwide shock and chagrin. What was more horrifying? The argumentation of interviewed personnel or the forcible commitment of human beings? Or was it the terrified men, who had not seen light for years and were showcased to the public without prior consent? Investigative journalism at whose cost? In 2014, on the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, people celebrated their newly won freedom. But what had become of those, who experienced Ueckermünde, and how is it with those, who are being treated their today? Ueckermünde, a small city at Stettiner Haff touts its “inclusivity” projects. On the website of a regional politician (Dahlemann: 2013), to following goal is heralded: “The beginning of an inclusive region [at the Stettiner Haff” “Many were already there in Bürgersaal. Whether Kulturspeicher or Kleeblattchule Anklam, politicians like Patrik Dahlemann, or regular people – they were all there in order to drive the project forward. Hopefully, it will then become concrete, so that many ideas like that of market for leisure activities, carpooling center, consulting center, among others, will be able to be better implemented and ‘inclusion on the backwater‘ will be brought to life.” The mission is expressed honestly, in words that include everyone. Nevertheless, the number people who retire early in Germany on account of psychological illness is increasing dramatically. In opposition to other German states, the number of mental illnesses in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern increased 102% between 1997 and 2011. The number of in-patients being treated grows at a steady rate. In plans for the further development of an integrative aid services for psychologically ill persons in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, attempts are made to react to structural problems. There are even discussions about interdisciplinary collaborations. During this negative development, the role and responsibilities of those who are active in systematic psychiatric clinics is not questioned. But how do those people fare, who are placed in House 12, a clinic on the edge of Ueckermünde? On a sign at the Ravenstein St. exit, the way to the center for forensic psychiatry as well as to Kita Morgenstern is described.
Further information leads the visitor to the AMEOS hospital complex. The clinic for psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychosomatic treatment, which is located at 23 Ravensteinstraße, is not mentioned. Before the interested person can find a proper description of the way to the clinic, he or she must first conduct fairly extensive internet research. On its modern web page, the hospital appeals to its 130 year old tradition and gives a detailed presentation of its guiding principles. With 87 in-patient beds, 6 wards, an ambulance, as well as five different treatment options in the day-clinic, the hospital offers enough space for a large number of patients. Modern methods of diagnosis and responsible doctors rounds out the presentation. Since the end of the Second World War, the institution had been reformed. (Cf. Seiffert: 2010).
“Normal psychologically ill” patients as well as the mentally retarded were brought into either red brick buildings or an old socialist construction. Signs that are for orientation say “open and closed integration“ guide you to the buildings. What do the terms integration and inclusion have in common? Across from House 40 is a landing. It is a concrete construction from the socialist era –desperately in need of cleaning – that, in 1997 and for some years thereafter, was still being used in 1997 as an open ward. Today, it is used as dormitory space for disabled people; children play soccer, unconcerned and joyful. The kindergarten Morgenstern is walled in, surrounded by dilapidated shanties that are used as storage spaces. Barbed wire walls tower behind the kindergarten. A sports field, monitored by countless video cameras. Not too far away, at 15 Ravensteinstraße, is the hospital for forensic psychiatry and psychotherapy. With its impressive architecture and reedy ponds, it could easily be mistaken for a vacation spot, if one overlooks the security cameras. Is the latter really a proper place for the rest and recovery of children, patients, and disabled persons, a proper place for the new form of “inclusion” in Ueckermünde? Are the patients and residents given a modern place for sports activities? No. In 1997, at the age of 17 years, C. was checked into House 12, the ward for acute psychiatric illnesses in Ueckermünde. He was just about to complete his Abitur , a high-school examination in Germany, as he suddenly faced a personal identity crisis. Homosexuality, a young love affair, and exclusion in his social environment; problems with his parents. Inner changes and experiences, common among adolescents. In order to help himself come through these developments, he turned to god, began to pray regularly and trust his inner voice. Through conversations with helpful friends, C. searched for a way out of this life-crisis. It was to no avail. His way was impeded by too many of the difficulties and realities of growing-up. He then sought support from a female pastor. He sat across from her, crying, and listened to the advice he would eventually follow: he should check himself into the clinic in his home city. That time, he wasn’t offered alternatives. That he had lost a massive amount of weight in the weeks before he checked in to the clinic played no part in any of the conversations. As he came to the hospital, C. had no idea that he was in the psychiatry ward. It was a bad time. He wanted to display himself honestly, to stand by his homosexuality. He undressed and waited in the corridor of the ward. He realized quickly, however, that this was no way to solve his problem. He calmed himself down but still could not understand that the doors of the ward were locked. He was not used to being shut in, and he felt completely closed in. No one questioned him about his problems; no one noticed the life crisis. At the entrance to the lavatory, he suffered a hemorrhage, that would eventually lead to his downfall. The cleaning of the lavatory and his body cost time. As he made his way back to his room, nurses and doctors were waiting in the corridor. Insecure in front of the crowd, he pushed one to the side, excusing himself with the words, “You made me anxious.” No one knew about his problems and painful stomach illness. His behavior led to his institutionalization at the acute psychiatric ward in Ueckermünde. Discher (2015).
Extract of an Interview with C. “As soon as I got there, someone gave me medication, and I was fixed in 24 hours. The assistant to the doctor assured me, “Don´t worry, you won´t remember the time here”. “I wasn’t addressed to as “Mr.”, but as “Ms.” … After my first day in the acute ward I couldn’t speak anymore. Walking and moving around were as good as impossible. I would need two years until I could say a normal sentence again, and I would need more than five before I could return to my life. But that had nothing to do with the diagnosis I received: I had to recover from the treatment itself. I don’t think I need to tell you that this didn’t get any better after my release from Ueckermünde. I got to know a bunch of people. Many of them are dead; they killed themselves. I wanted to do it, too, yet somehow I knew, that I would make it. “Today I’m married. Despite all of the written attestations of my “below average intelligence”, “boundless hubris – particularly concerning life plans”, and my “immaturity and naïveté”, I passed my Abitur and later I finished my studies at university. Now I have a job with responsibility and I have both feed on the ground. Out of all of my relations, only my closest friends know about my experience at Ueckermünde … and how I can’t help but remember my stay, every day, every word of it. Everything.” “I have yet to meet someone, who, after their stay in House 12, managed to get their life back together. Either they’ve got a pension, or they aren’t around anymore.”
How should the “normal person” understand the abnormal if no clear distinction is made between forensic psychiatry and the common clinic for psychiatry, psychotherapy, and psychosomatic? Who would have believed C. after his stay in House 12? Who would have even checked if the measures, which stripped him of his freedom, were justified?Judges aren’t doctors. When making decisions, they rely on the testament of medical experts. What goes on behind closed doors is typically controlled by the state and not subject to criticism. General standards make sure that there is consistency and verifiability. Tied up, untied, time to get up.
The lost identities and life goals are lost to the place, that was meant to heal them. I have spoken with countless individuals. Only after long and detailed searches in the internet can one become acquainted with the terrifying life histories which are inseparable from modern forms of psychiatric treatment. Bernd Seiffert from NRW. Thomas Juritz, Olaf L., Mario Hagemeister from Rostock. They are no longer among us. Ueckermünde and the fates of people with psychiatric illnesses are harldy mentioned in publically broadcast legal. After the therapeutically accompanying in Ueckermünde, one is thrown back into life, into the self-help and support groups, into assistant living, or—under the cloak of “inclusion”—into a sheltered workshop? Although people hear about the events in these hospitals, they never really learn about them. Only when they are affected can they afford a look into the inside workings of the red brick buildings. There is no way back. They have been permanently away from life.
These types of clinics create illnesses, psychosis, a metabolic illness of the brain, is not single-handedly responsible for the inability of patients to reenter their lives. If family members with psychosis feel themselves overwhelmed and rely on the advice of professionals, the story of C. will become commonplace. Today, everyone feels a personal connection to talk about depression. Depression has arrived in our society. Do people outside really know what it means to be taken over by deep sadness, avolition, or an urge to suicide? Or is “depressive” merely used as a popular word, because our society is too unreflective? In this context, clinics are not discussed as much. Nowadays, who would be excited to go to a psychiatrist and get a prescription? These types of forcibly commitment and methods of treatment for younger and older people in Ueckermünde relegate the psychiatry’s to the shadows, that pay effort for a reorientation in medical and health care. Professions with leap of faith: the entire staff, composed of doctors, psychologists, social workers and consultants, that is, those whose level of trustworthiness is much greater than that of the psychologically ill. There is no chance of a collapse. Not only is that red brick building part of the complete system of our society, but the people that work there and go about their business as servants of the everyday, keep it alive. Outer facades and inner building structures are easily renovated. People and their way of thinking are not. Perhaps it is time for the 130 year old tradition of the psychological clinic to reveal its inner workings to the eye of the public.
We are searching for the way toward “inclusion”, that is, toward a society that is open and inclusive for everyone. Meanwhile, this word— “inclusion”—is a lovingly used in-word that sparks the interest of the public and propels politicians in their campaigns, but ultimately forgets the people who are left because no one is lobbying for them. “Inclusion” is a perfectly valid term in scholarship. It is wonderfully suited for raising millions of euros for research projects, the results of which are often not applicable in practice. Those who teach the concept of “inclusion” rarely think it out to its end or represent it practically. Those who actually campaign for “inclusion”, as they happily fulfill their contracts and are kept satisfied by their acting and remain in silence. (Discher 2015)
Thanks B. for your support.
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