SIERRA VISTA — Released after more than two weeks from Canyon Vista Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Unit following a harrowing yearlong battle with the state’s mental health system that included sexual assaults and physical and verbal abuse, April Trappe feels like she has to walk a tight, thin line.
And if she refuses to receive monthly injections for a year of an antipsychotic medication used for treating schizophrenia in adultsalled Invega Sustenna,as a condition of her release, she’ll be back at CVMC’s fourth floor psych ward again.
And that’s the last place she wants to be.
Trappe is not alone in her battle with mental health and its deeply-entangled system.
The American Psychological Association says two-thirds of psychologists reported seeing an increase in the severity among symptoms in patients last year.
It’s not slowing down.
Nearly 50 million Americans have experienced a mental illness, according to the nonprofit Mental Health America, which says 4.91% are experiencing a severe mental illness.
More than anything, Trappe — who has eyewitness statements, police reports and graphic photographs documenting sexual assaults and physical abuse along with two pending lawsuits — wants sweeping mental health reforms made from transport to care, not just for herself but for any patient entering a short- or long-term mental care facility.
“They don’t and won’t listen to you, or consider your doctor’s statement about your condition,” said Trappe, who was transported to three mental health facilities in the Phoenix area before she was petitioned to CVMC. “Once you’re in the system, you’re theirs, and there’s no way around it. I’m not schizophrenic, and I shouldn’t be taking injections for it. I’ve been diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder by a Banner Medical Center psychiatrist.
“But Southeastern Arizona Behavioral Health Services won’t look at that doctor’s letter. They haven’t spent 10 minutes listening to me or about the past trauma I have been through. They just want to stick a needle in me once a month.”
Following a breakdown during a follow-up visit where she had been treated for a sudden episode of ventricular tachycardia at Verde Valley Medical Center in Cottonwood, things quickly spun out of control for Trappe. She became aggressive when she wasn’t receiving answers she expected to hear from her physician and was transported to a mental care facility in Phoenix.
During the 40-mile drive, Trappe was sexually assaulted so violently by a female patient who was also being driven to a mental care facility that four Yavapai County Sheriff deputies had to be called to subdue her attacker. She has an eyewitness report from a staff member backing her claim as well a lawsuit against the transport company.
At Recovery Innovations, a private psychiatric hospital in Peoria, she also claims she was raped by eight staff members four different times. She asked for rape kits but her requests were denied.
She filed a grievance claim against the facility in August.
“They denied it and said nothing happened,” she said.
Trappe’s allegations about abuses in mental health facilities are hardly the first. There’s a multitude of horror stories about patients caught in abusive or predatory situations, but experts say there’s no reliable data on the quality or safety of psychiatric inpatient facilities, making it difficult to hold them accountable.
In 2019, the Tampa Bay Times published an investigation of North Tampa Behavioral Health, a psychiatric hospital that “makes huge profits by exploiting patients held under Florida’s mental health law.”
That same year, the Seattle Times reported on 10 private psychiatric hospitals in Washington state that had been approved or expanded since 2012. The newspaper found a series of safety issues, bad record-keeping and instances of hospitals trying to keep voluntary patients from leaving.
Despite having a letter from Dr. Saira Kalia, a Banner Medical Center physiatrist and OBGYN diagnosing her with premenstrual dysphoric disorder, Trappe says mental health professionals won’t acknowledge it and are treating her for everything from bi-polar 1 to schizophrenia. At CVMC, her husband said she was given injections of Haldol and Geodon, both used to treat schizophrenia.
A naturopath for the last 10 years, Trappe is angered — not only at the system she believes is misdiagnosing and wrongly medicating her – but for forcing her to be injected with an antipsychotic medication against her will.
“It’s my body, my right,” she said. “They’re putting something into my body I don’t want, and to me it’s like rape. This medication makes me grumpy, gives me shortness of breath, zaps my energy and leaves me exhausted. It’s taken every bit of my strength out of me. Plus, I can’t feel things that I hold in my hands, and my naturopath doctor is being completely shut out.”
Trappe has documented all of her alleged abuses and has totes and thick binders filled with graphic police photographs of bruises on various parts of her body, reports, letters from physicians, lawsuits and personal accounts of traumas and taunting from staff she has experienced in mental health facilities and transport vehicles.
But for now, she knows she has to walk a straight, narrow line in order to remain released.
“I was physically strong before they started injecting me, but I’ll take their shots every month because I have to,” she said. “But I will not be shut up and be a good little girl. I am not crazy, and I will not be silenced.”