"Pink Slipping" Affects More Than Just The Patient

Jul 3, 2018

In the world of mental health, emergency hospitalization can be a loaded topic. For some people, the image of a psychiatric hospital brings to mind movies like "Girl, Interrupted" or "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

The reality is far different — and the process behind deciding to hospitalize someone — also known as “pink slipping” — can be hard for the patient and the professional alike.

Shock
I can still remember what led up to that day, about a year and a half ago. I found myself in that tiny, gray room, peeling an orange and pouring sugar into a cup of coffee that smelled so sweet it made my stomach churn. There was a table. A chair. A mattress, leaning up against the locked window. My hands were shaking. Was it the coffee or the nerves, rattling me from the inside, grabbing hold of my collar and screaming that this was my fault?

"I wanted to leave, but I couldn’t leave. I couldn’t leave because I was pink slipped.

The 2018 Application for Emergency Admission from the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, commonly referred to as a pink slip.
Credit ANDREW MEYER / WKSU

“The official title is the Ohio Department of Mental Health application for emergency admission, also known as Ohio Revised Code 51.22," said Emily Ribnik, the clinical mental health counselor at Kent State University Stark Campus.

“This document allows a psychiatrist, a licensed clinical psychologist, licensed physician, health or police officer, sheriff or deputy sheriff, they can fill this out and what this does is that it temporarily keeps somebody in custody," Ribnik said. 

The term “pink slip” refers to the original carbon-copy form, the top sheet of which was pink. In order to be pink slipped, you have to represent a substantial risk to yourself or someone else.

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Struggle
For me, this feeling didn’t happen overnight. Just like you realize you’re coming down with a bad cold when you’re standing at your kitchen sink feeling a little lightheaded, the progression from “a little blue” to suicidal thoughts can be slow and painful. Aliyah Tucker, a former Kent State student, has been pink- slipped too. I was looking for someone who had shared my experience. I found her on Facebook.

“It was, 'You’re going to go to the hospital one way or another. You can go, or we can make you go.' And then I was just like, 'All right. I’ll go,'" Tucker said. 

Tucker told me she’s been pink-slipped between 20 and 30 times, many of those in her childhood, when she bounced from foster home to group home to residential-treatment facility.

“I was self-harming pretty bad. And when I was being hospitalized, ... I got pink-slipped several times because I was a minor and children’s services was my guardian, so if they wanted me to go, I had no say," Tucker said.

Reflection
It was that same helplessness and fear that was gripping me in the police car taking me to my evaluation. The trees and snowy streets passed us, flying by on either side of the car like a white and gray ribbon. This wasn’t fair, I thought. The officer helping me seemed so cold. For perspective on what I went through, I talked to Jeff Futo. He’s the emergency and safety specialist police officer at Kent State. He says the demeanor of the officer helping me that day was probably on purpose.

"We tend to try to stay as unemotional as possible. ... We can empathize with them, but if we were to get too vested in it, you would be exhausted at the end of every day," Futo said. 

When we arrived at the intake center, the officer helping me told me I had to go in. I felt like I was caught in a rip tide, being pulled along. I remember how angry I was.

Where was my right to waive treatment, especially when treatment meant the cold inside of the police car? At first, I felt hurt for myself. But was I the only one struggling? Emily Ribnik at Kent State Stark says those in her position often just want to see a safer community.

“I can 100 percent understand that not being the perception in the moment," Ribnik said. "I have had experiences where someone who went through the process with me ... I would see them later, and they would say, similar to what you said, ‘I was confused, I was really upset, it didn’t feel right. And I’m here today.'"

And sometimes, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I am dreaming about the gray room and the locked windows, and I wonder: Did the pink slip help me? It might have, it might not have. But I am here to tell this story.

This story is an adaptation of a piece originally published in The Burr. 

Editor's note:  This story has been updated to fix the link to the original story.