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Medication-Free Treatment in Norway - A Private Hospital Takes Center Stage
Written by Robert Whitaker, read by James Moore with thanks to Birgit Valla for pronunciation assistance, first published on Mad in America, December 8, 2019.
The Hurdalsjøen Recovery Center, which is a private psychiatric hospital located about forty minutes north of Oslo, on the banks of stunning Lake Hurdal, was set up by its director, Ole Andreas Underland, to provide “medication-free” care for those who wanted such treatment or who wanted to taper from their psychiatric drugs. Norway’s health minister was urging public mental hospitals to offer such treatment, and this private hospital stepped forward before any public hospital had taken the plunge.
Hurdalsjøen opened on April 1, 2015. The first person to show up at its doors was 31-year-old Tonje Finsås, and she had a medical history that could fill volumes. She had developed an eating disorder when she was eight; she was put on antidepressants at age 11, which is when she started cutting herself; then came a prescription for a benzodiazepine; and soon she was cycling in and out of psychiatric wards with astonishing frequency. She arrived at Hurdalsjøen with prescriptions for 31 medicines, including three antipsychotics, and a record of 220 hospitalizations. She had spent most of the three previous years in isolation at a psychiatric hospital in Bergen, where she was watched over by two aides at all times, and was often restrained in a belt.
“I tried to kill myself every day,” she recalled. “I didn’t want to live anymore. This was not a life. Even a dog in a cage has it better than what you have in there.”
Although Lake Hurdal provides a beautiful setting, the hospital is located in a 1970s building, one that was used to treat people suffering from nervous problems, and inside it has an institutional feeling: small rooms located off a long hallway, not all that different from what you might find in an older psychiatric hospital. When Finsås balked at staying there, Underland proposed a novel solution.
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