Tales From the Psychiatric Ward – article 1

I have decided to start interjecting poems, letters, journal entries, and life updates as they come to me. Today, is one of those days. I would like to take a moment and reflect on my time in the psychiatric hospital. I will later share more details of my experience, along with journal enteries. My time in general population was traumatizing, and I would like to shine some light on the state of mental health in America. It can lead to people not seeking the treatment they so desperately need. I will contrast this with my experience in the Post Partum Unit. It, by contrast, was a great experience that led to deep healing. There is a need for reform in the healthcare sector, when it comes to addressing mental health issues. I hope to shed some light.

10 Things I wish I had known about the psych ward before I went:

1. If you are transported to the psych hospital, it may take place by police car rather than by ambulance.

Many of my friends in the hospital had been brought in on recommendation of their doctor. They were upset and shamed by police car transport, rather than by ambulance, as you would be for any other illness. They felt like criminals instead of people with mental illness.

2. When you enter the hospital, whether by choice or my force, you surrender many of your basic human rights.

You are locked in most units. This is not surprising, they don’t want you to escape and harm yourself. You are not allowed to wear any clothes that have any strings or bands. You can not even have shoelaces. You do not have freedom of choice. You do not have privacy. You do not have control over your own life. I was even denied the ability to pump my breastmilk from my engorged chest. They threw me a bucket and a warm towel and told me to hand express. The nurse shamed me for even wanting to breastfeed my baby. The staff was required to let me pump, after my husband made a phone call. I was told I was receiving special treatment, as I was led to a room with vomit in the sink and bloody gauze on the floor, while a nurse watched my every move.

3. The rooms may indeed be padded. You are often under video recording. The rooms don’t lock.

In the psychiatric ER, which was worse than a general population floor, the bathroom was in the middle of the room and had no lock on the door. The floor was cooed. So, at any point, a man could have walked in on me. I had to wait to go to the bathroom, until my husband was with me and could watch the door. The walls were padded. There was a camera watching me at all times.

4. The units are typically cooed with multiple diagnoses on the floor.

My floor was cooed and all mental health disorders were contained in the same space. So, I was placed in care with people withdrawing from drugs and those with severe schizophrenia. There were no locks on the doors, and this really concerned me. This was especially true, when I was showering or sleeping. I was made to feel that I was being paranoid and that my concerns were exaggerated. They assured me they rounded every fifteen minutes, I lay awake at night wondering what could happen to me in fifteen minutes.

5. The staff is overwhelmed by their patient population and often jaded.

The nursing staff can be short and uncaring at times. The appointments that I had with my doctors were short and/ rushed. It felt much like being in a court room on trial, as I entered the room with one doctor and eight students on one side of the room an myself, alone, on the other. I was asked to open up and share my story. Midway through my explanation of what I was feeling, they cut me off and told me to go. I had no input into my plan of care. I was not even told, what was going to happen as they changed my medications or what side effects to watch for.

6. The doctors may take you off all of your meds at one time.

The first time I had a spike in anxiety, I went to get my anxiety medication I had depended on for weeks. I was told that all my medications were removed from my treatment plan with no new medications in their place. When I started crying and went to my room, I was told I was overreacting. I was treated as if I was out of my mind for being anxious and stressed in this environment. It was held against me as I competed to prove my sanity.

7. You have a roomate. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.

The only person you are ever really alone with is your roommate. While mine was kind and helpful, she was also a frequent flyer and highly unstable. She told me she could see how much pain I was in and was going to lay hands on me to heal me. My husband asked to me to tell her not to. However, I was so scared to upset her, as I slept alone with her, I would have let her. Luckily, I was transferred off the unit before this happened.

8. Family can only visit a few times a day.

The schedule allows for family to come at certain times of day. Therefore, there is a lot of alone time. Lots of time to get stuck in your own mind. Lots of time to become nervous or paranoid. Your only choice, besides staying completely to yourself, is to befriend others on the unit. However, it can be dangerous to your safety to befriend the wrong person. As well, you are never sure who you can trust. In a psychiatric hospital I trained in medically (I was a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner), a woman punched out a light in the ceiling and tried to use it to slice her roommates throat.

9. Everything you say can and will be used against you.

Every question you ask, the frequency with which you ask, the tone in which you speak is being examined. They are making a case against you from the time you enter. The chips fall in favor of you being really sick or needing to stay longer, rather than in your best interest or towards assuming the best in you. You can not speak freely without consequence.

10. The classes they offer during the day are all but helpful.

The classes are often about how to reengage with the real world and go back to work. AA is often a component of course work as well. There are few, if any classes, on coping skills. There are not exercise classes to help the patients positively direct their energy and lower their ability to become anxious. They aren’t talking about how you may feel about your illness, or how the world will view you when you get out. There are group therapies but little individualized counseling.

If we want people to actively seek mental health treatment, it needs to become safer. People need to feel cared about and treated with respect. The caseworkers and medical staff need to be working in favor of the patient, not with biased. Patients need to feel safe and cared about. They need to feel they have a fair shot and be prepared to reintegrate into the real world. The cycle of treating mental health patients as subhuman can not continue. We need to be investing financially into research for better medications and into improving the facilities and care. Insurance companies need to be required to cover all mental health drugs. Most medications are very expensive, and are partially covered or not covered at all. Mental health drugs are so hard to tailor to a person. What works for one person may not work for another with the same diagnosis. Therefore, people with mental health issues need to have full access to all approved drugs. If we want future generation to be better than we, we need to make change.


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