• 'Inpatient', an online interactive novel, takes you through a 72 hour stay in a psychiatric hospital. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
"Some things need to be experienced to be understood," says Alana Zablocki, who has created an interactive novel based on her own experiences of psychiatric hospitalisation.
Alyssa Braithwaite

19 Jul 2017 - 2:14 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2017 - 3:02 PM

Alana Zablocki has been in and out of psychiatric wards for the past three years.

After her stays in hospital, the 28-year-old transgender queer woman from Toronto, Canada would try to talk to friends about her experiences, but struggled to communicate the reality of what she had been through.

Instead, the computer programmer created Inpatient - A Psychiatric Story, an interactive novel which simulates a mental health crisis and the patient experience of psychiatric hospitalisation. 

The characters in Inpatient are fictional, but the events are inspired by Zablocki's real-life experiences. She says she wanted to provide a window into the grim realities people face in a system that frequently falls short of its healing potential. 

"People don't really understand what it's like talking to a doctor who will decide whether or not to admit you," Zablocki tells Metro News

"I want people to empathise with patients - especially mental health workers. I want them to play the game and understand how their own behaviours may affect patients.

"Some things need to be experienced to be understood."

The game takes you through a 72-hour hospital stay, where you play as Jessica Meredith Gonzales, a 32-year-old woman who has suicidal feelings. 

At the bottom of each page you are given two or three options to navigate your way through the mental health system: choke down hospital food, or don't. Forge relationships with patients and staff. Decide what to say, what to do, and deal with the consequences.

Depending on the choices you make, you could be given the medication you need to sleep or you could get "formed" - which is an application for psychiatric assessment that will allow the hospital to hold you involuntarily for 72 hours.

Zablocki, who has struggled with mental health issues since she was 15 years old, spent a year writing, editing and coding Inpatient. 

"This work included many long days, late nights, and more coffee than I'd care to admit. It also involved dealing with flashbacks and reliving my trauma," she writes on the Inpatient website. 

The game is free for those who can't afford to pay, but accepts payments of between $2 and $50 for those who are able to to contribute.

Zablocki was inspired by another game about mental illness called Depression Quest, which allows you to play as someone living with depression.

She is currently writing a novel based on one of the nine characters in the game, but says working on the game has had a positive impact on her own mental health, and given her some relief from her issues.

"I'm not thinking too far ahead. I want to try to enjoy life," she tells CBC News.

One-in-five Australians will experience a mental illness each year, according to Mindframe.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: 
Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
MensLine Australia 1300 78 99 78.
Multicultural Mental Health Australia www.mmha.org.au.
Local Aboriginal Medical Service available from www.vibe.com.au.

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