The TRUTH of Being on a Psychiatric Ward

I feel that this is an important topic at the moment as I often come across people who do not understand or realise the true picture of what it is like to be a patient on a psychiatric ward.

I come across people who tend to think that a psychiatric hospital is full of ‘loonies’ and that the patients are put in rooms with no furniture wearing straight jackets. They seem to have this idea that these patients do not look similar to you or I and that any ‘normal’ looking person should not be in there. They tend to have the idea that patients behave in particular stereotypical ways, for example licking windows or biting people. I have had numerous admissions to several different wards and I can tell you that this is not the case. Ever.

I have also come across people who want to be admitted to a psychiatric ward and not because they are ill but because they glamorise them. These people seem to be under the idea that it’s a giant sleepover and they’ll make friends and have fun and have hugs off the nurses. I genuinely have come across a post on Tumblr saying, “I want to be sectioned so that I can have a hug whenever I’m sad.” I’m not sure I will ever stop being shocked by that post. There is nothing glamorous about psychiatric wards. The other patients tend to be very unwell and not a place where they want to make friends, the wards are often short staffed, you will be able to speak to someone if you are struggling but the staff aren’t there to make friends with you. It’s not a hotel, or a school residential. It’s a hospital.

There are also the people that assume you will be discharged and no longer have a mental health problem. They seem to believe that miracles and fairy tales exist. You will come home and be right as rain. That isn’t true. I often struggle to adjust to home and have to work incredibly hard not to relapse straight away. Standing on your own two feet after weeks or months in hospital is difficult. More importantly ‘true recovery’ takes place in the community. A hospital ward is an artificial environment, a bubble. It is very different to life outside of hospital. Hospital often stabilises the patient but that is only the beginning of what can be a very long journey. I know in my case that it will take me years to get better and even then it will be a life of relapse and remission. I am never going to be jumping for joy and completely free of my illness and I accept that but I know it can be difficult for others to accept.

This Is My Experience of Being On a Psychiatric Ward

At the start of my admission I was on level 3 observations, which means that I had a nurse or healthcare assistant with me at all times, and I mean ALL times. I was watched sleeping, bathing, going to the toilet, getting dressed. I had no privacy, no dignity. It was embarrassing, they even watched me go to the toilet in a pot and I would have to stand by them as they measured it. I hated it. You don’t particularly get better privacy if you aren’t on level 3 observations. There isn’t a single room that the staff can’t get into, your bedroom door will have a window in it and not all the staff knock before entering. It is quite likely that a male will walk in on you getting dressed in your bedroom.

Ward round happens once a week. I found it incredibly intimidating. I would walk into a room with 6-8 people in, doctors, social worker, home treatment team. The psychiatrist in charge of my care would expect me to talk about how things are and it would be my only opportunity to ask questions about my care and treatment. Often, I could not talk because the amount of people in the room made me feel too anxious, too much in the limelight. They told me I could ask to speak to the doctor alone but when I asked for this the doctor told me that it was important that everyone was in the room so that they could make decisions on a joint basis. I think it would’ve been more important for me to feel comfortable enough so that I could talk.

I had all of my belongings taken away. Not just my phone, or my shoes with laces. I had everything taken off of me including knickers, books, get well soon cards. They were all locked away in a cupboard.

There is no choice over medication, well there wasn’t for me as I was detained under the Mental Health Act. Several times a day a nurse would walk in with a little pot of pills for me that I couldn’t refuse. If I was becoming distressed I would be given lorezapam no matter what the reason behind my distress was. More annoyingly is that there are specific times for medication. Night meds are generally given out between 22:30 and 23:00. At home, I usually go to bed around 21:00-21:30. I would often be waiting around, sat in the corridor in my pyjamas waiting for meds so that I could go to bed. My night meds would not wear off very early in the morning as a result so I would be waken up for my breakfast feeling groggy and sleepy. It was not ideal.

I would often feel like a pin cushion. Hourly blood sugar tests. Daily blood tests. Daily blood pressure. Weighing. Regular ECGs. It could often feel like too much. My mood was low, I was exhausted. I just wanted to rest and have peace.

I did feel trapped. Locked in no matter what. If the ward became a loud, stressful place then I had to breathe through it. If I had a situation to sort outside of hospital then I couldn’t, even if that was bailiffs threatening to come to my house. I wondered if I would be able to see my sister on her Birthday. I was stuck in that building for 2 months.

It can get very boring, especially towards the end of an admission when I was beginning to feel better and stable. There was nothing to do and it isn’t just that day, I sat there bored knowing I would be in the same building for at least 2 more weeks. It felt like forever. There is no social life, but the world outside doesn’t stop. It makes it difficult to join back in after being discharged. There’s restrictions on visitors, they refused my best friend entry and I haven’t seen her since. That lost me my best friend. My mum was only able to visit at certain times and often her work and visiting hours didn’t fit in with each other. I spent a lot of time on my own.

There was the occasional positive moment. A one-off writing class or a Saturday morning spent glass painting. A game of pool during a quiet time on the ward. These moments were few and far between but I am grateful to the staff that managed to put a smile on my face even when I really didn’t feel like smiling.

Psychiatric wards save lives, they certainly saved mine. They did not put me in a straight jacket and I assure you I did not lick the windows! It certainly wasn’t fun, it was horrific. I am not now healthy and happy but hospital gave me the foundations on which I could begin to build my life again.

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9 thoughts on “The TRUTH of Being on a Psychiatric Ward

    1. It’s interesting to read about other people’s experiences. I was locked up in a couple of different County (not private) psych wards in Los Angeles, CA during 2011 & 2012. The best we had for entertainment was bracelet making or a tv locked up behind a shatter-proof cover that was smudged and the remote was lost so it was stuck on one channel. We had a couple really off the wall people and yes, one was a biter. My experience with the nurses was thinking they probably should have chosen another career track because most were quite mean and rude. Then again, maybe they just thought because we were mentally ill that it didn’t matter?

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      1. In other wards I’ve been on the entertainment was similar to how you describe. Unfortunately I’ve come across nurses like that too and I’m sorry you’ve had a bad experience. Xxxxx

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  1. Sadly and perfectly described. I used to be a MHP and I would come down like a ton of bricks on ANY staff member entering a patients room without knocking and gaining consent to enter. When we expected patients to knock and wait prior to entering the ward office, how dare we not behave to the same standards?

    Sad also to hear that boredom is still a big factor. It also doesn’t help that many units have lost their mental health physio so having exercise / walking / badminton was off for many of our local service users because we lost ours too.

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    1. Hiya,

      That’s very true. The respect should be mutual.

      Yes it seems lack of funding is a part of the boredom issue but I also think the lack of links with community is part of it. The OT said people used to volunteer to teach art or writing or play games etc but now no one does.
      Xx

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  2. Hi,
    While ive never been in hospital as a patient I have worked in a psychiatric facility some years ago, so you have my fullest understanding of the kind of environment you were in.
    At this time of year, over the last few years, I find my mood takes a bit of a nosedive, with anxiety, worry and OCD increasing in symptoms to the point my mind feels like it cant cope sometimes. Then I went onto the mind site and felt reconnected reading yours and others experiences and I have to say, when you feel like youre the odd one out when others seem incapable of empathising, it makes a world of difference to goto the mind (and this) site. So thankyou for sharing your experience, it takes a lot of courage to open your mind to strangers and it makes a difference.

    Wishing you well.

    Ben

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    1. Hi Ben,

      I’m glad that you found my words helpful as well as other’s words.

      I hope that you have some help and support with your mental health.

      Thank you so much for your kind feedback.

      Claire

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