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The Horrors Behind the Florida Baker Act, Told by a Survivor

Anonymous Teen - Teen Aspect - August 12th, 2022

Over 35,000 minors in Florida were admitted into the Florida State Baker Act System in 2021. This system was designed over 50 years ago, and allows for doctors or police to involuntary institutionalize anyone with mental health conditions if they meet three criteria:

1. Someone has refused voluntary treatment.

2. Someone cannot determine if they need an examination without care or treatment.

3. There is a high likelihood that without treatment, the given person will place themselves or others in harm.

If one meets these three requirements, they are legally allowed to be taken into a mental health facility for up to 72 hours without consent.

This law in theory is supposed to ensure incapacitated individuals receive the treatment they need for their illness. However, in reality this system is a modern day prison, and is being targeted at minors in the state of Florida. I was one of these minors.

There were no windows in the facility. Any window was fogged out, preventing us from seeing the outside world. We are stripped of all our clothes, including bras, and given gripped socks and a hospital gown that only fits one size. You are strapped down on a stretcher and brought in if you were admitted by hospital, handcuffed in if brought by police. I was taken by the former, but many children still had marks on their hands from the handcuffs the police placed on them in their classrooms or homes.

I was placed in a waiting room with 9 other minors, ranging from ages 11-17. It was around 6:30 am when I was placed in the waiting room. You are locked in with no supervision. The floor was filled with dust, dirt, food crumbs, and blood. The walls were graffitied. There was no clock, no food, drinks, or bathroom. There were only 10 chairs lined up in rows of 5 against the white, blank walls in a room about the size of a bathroom. The only form of entertainment was a tv behind a cage, constantly playing Disney Junior. No way to tell time, to communicate with outsiders or medical professionals. Just me and 9 other strangers in a room, all Baker Acted for different reasons.

I was in this room for 15 hours. I wasn’t sent to my room until 10:00pm. One minor had a medical emergency, and no one came to help her, claiming she was “complaining.” The staff I interacted with were not doctors. Most were interns or therapists in training. Another kid fell on the floor of the waiting room and passed out while blood gushed from his head. No one came to aid him until the children banged on the door for attention.

After 15 hours I was brought upstairs to the overflow floor. The hospital was too filled with children, so we were sent to what the staff called “the well behaved floor”. During our first sleep, we were woken up at 3 in the morning to have our blood drawn. The needles were aggressive, and a few kids had lasting bruises from where they were sampled. If a patient were to “misbehave”, the caretakers were required to use punishment and fear tactics to keep kids in line. One patient refused to speak to their abusive parents on the phone, and was punished by receiving “unit restriction”, where they weren’t allowed to eat with other patients, go to art therapy, or go outside the unit for any reason.

I was in this facility for 6 days. The law states no one can be held longer than 72 hours, or three days. I only met with a doctor twice for about 10 minutes throughout the week.

The law claims we receive treatment to better us. The opposite is true. We were detained with only novice therapists, who did not meet up with us one on one. We had two group therapy sessions a day, one where an intern therapist would do a group sit down session on any topic of their choosing, and an art therapy session, where we were allowed to watercolor paint for 30 minutes. The rest of the day was spent in the dayroom, a room with lined up hospital chairs and one table, with one tv behind a cage, playing Disney Junior. We sat around like ducks all day, unless we went to mealtime, or to art therapy.

All the windows on our floor were fogged, so we could not see the outside world.

The “caretakers” who acted like babysitters, watching us and writing down when we sat, stood, laid down, or slept, would only escort us, not giving any therapy. I was not helped, I was locked away. There was a poster on the floor that listed out our rights. This sign had basic spelling errors, and most of the rights listed weren’t even told to us or given to us. Everyone is served the same food, regardless of allergies or dietary restrictions, with little alternatives to those who need it.

To make matters worse, most of the children Baker Acted in Florida do not meet the criteria stated in the law. Two kids on my floor were taken in because of parental and domestic abuse. Another was taken for drug use. These children did not need to be placed in this facility, and in consequence have lasting trauma and expensive medical bills. Medical bills being charged to low income families, for having their children taken without permission.

I wasn’t given my daily medication the first three days of my stay. One of the days, I was given the wrong medication, which was for stomach issues, issues I didn’t have. I fought with the med clerk, insisting those pills weren’t mine, until he realized his mistake and gave me the right medication. There were children that were six years old. I would hate to imagine what could happen to a child so young if they were fed the wrong medication like I almost was.

The Baker Act does not support the mentally ill. It teaches them to be quiet about their problems, and is a looming threat over citizens with mental illness. We are not allowed to voice what treatment we believe will help us. We are scapegoated by the government. Baker Acts can be placed on criminal records. Why is it criminal to need help? We have nowhere to turn. The suicide hotline feeds into these systems. Schools and medical professionals my law are required to Baker Act someone if they show signs of suicide or self harm. The people admitted are seen as “crazy” and “loony”, when in reality these people were just regular people in need of help they cannot receive.

We are the silent, underrepresented minority in the United States. Both political parties use us as a scapegoat for issues such as gun violence in America. If we speak up, we are met with the degrading pressure of mental health stigma, and become less likely to get jobs, less likely to win custody of children in court, and less likely to be taken seriously by any medical professional in this country.

I wrote this piece for two reasons: to spread awareness about the Baker Act system, and to prevent any other child from being forced into this system like I was.

Americans get together to support major causes such as LGBTQ pride, Black Lives Matter, and abortion rights. Imagine the progress mental health patients could have with mass support like these groups get. Help us combat stigma and help us be accepted.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide and self harm, do your research before contacting organizations. Confide in people you trust. Please remember, you are never alone. It took my Baker Act to learn I wasn’t alone. There are thousands of kids and adults just like me, fighting to survive. We are strong. You are strong.

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