What it’s like to be a patient in a psyc. ward

*Disclaimer* I am not writing this blog for myself- I don’t need to vent, I don’t need to express emotions and I don’t need to whine about some boy- writing these things triggers me and brings back PTSD symptoms- it doesn’t benefit me at all other than letting me help other survivors relate to someone and bring awareness to those who can’t relate. I am writing this blog solely to help others, raise awareness and to raise donations for charity. 

Picture this:

You’re walking down a dimly lit hallway. On your right, there’s a puddle of bodily fluid with the elderly patient who had needed relief staggering not far away. The lights flicker. There are rooms on your left and then the looming hallway forms a T; rooms line both sides of the branched halls. Each room is small and has rubber covering all corners so that nobody can attempt to hurt themselves. A woman begins to scream that she doesn’t want to be here. You walk down one of the hallways. No doors shut completely, so you can see each patient at all times. There are few windows- any windows that exist view other buildings or parking lots. The woman won’t stop screaming. There’s another elderly woman with a towel over her face sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway, muttering to anyone who would listen. A man paces up and down the hallways- his ex was annoyed with his being hyperactive in a phase of his bipolar, so she accused him of being crazy and dropped him off at the ER to be committed to this place.

Down one hallway, a nurse yells at a patient and tells them to get away from a schizophrenic patient. “We don’t talk to him,” she scolds, and pulls the patient away from the “recreational room,” if it could be called that. The other nurses ignore the schizophrenic patient when he tries to talk to them. Every time he reaches out for some normalcy, for some social connection, the nurses ignore him and force the other patients to help isolate him. He continues to sit alone in a corner, left to his own head for company.

Three female patients pace the small hallways, restless. They’re isolated from the world. Their eyes are glazed over, lifeless and empty, yet they flock together so that they can feel less alone. An elderly man joins them in their pacing. Two of the four are only there because they have chronic physical pain and became suicidal because their physicians gave up on them. The other two were suicidal, their PTSD after abuse driving them to misery. Locked away for being in pain, the four pace the halls together, regretting ever reaching out to anyone for help- if they hadn’t, their situations mightn’t have changed but at least they would have their freedom and dignity.

The “recreational room,” aka a room that has some children’s books, crayons, markers, sudokus, and crossword puzzles, is open for a few hours during the day while a nurse watches over the patrons of the room.

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The nurses watch the patients. They look at them from a distance then turn and whisper to their co-workers. The jokes and laughter from the nurses station drowns out some of the whimpering from an abused, bipolar woman laying on a bed alone in her room. The burdensome patients aren’t really people, after all, they’re objects that nurses just have to deal with. The nurses sigh when their conversations are interrupted because a patient needs some water, which the nurses have to distribute. They talk over patients to other nurses while they’re taking vital signs- the patients are invisible.

There are showers, but the patients can’t use a razor to shave unless a nurse watches them, in case the patient tries to take their life. So the patient showers completely naked in front of the nurse who is in charge of watching them. Already humiliated, the patient becomes sub-human in order to attempt to maintain some form of dignity in their mind to make it though a shower.

It’s a mandatory lights out at 11pm and the nurses’ station is bustling with activity, not because they’re getting ready to help patients, but because there seems to be a social hour. The patients have to sleep at that time but the nurses disregard this.

One patient asks to speak to a nurse who had said something hurtful to her earlier in the day. The nurse had been in charge of watching this particular patient for the evening.

During their interactions earlier in the evening, the nurse asks the patient why she was in the psyc. ward.

The patient replies something along the lines of “I was in an abusive relationship and became suicidal after it,” to which the nurse gives a look of disgust.

She scoffs and shakes her head, her short, bobbed hair shaking back and forth while she looked up at you with a furrowed brow, and replies “I would NEVER let that happen to ME. HOW could you let that happen to YOU. *Sigh* I would never.”

The patient approaches the nurse around lights out time and, giving her the benefit of the doubt, asks if maybe she had misinterpreted what the nurse said earlier in the day.

The nurse takes a step back after these words and rolls her eyes, replying: “If you want to report me, go ahead. I didn’t do anything, go ahead and report me.” She then walked away, leaving the patient hyperventilating and sobbing.

There are 25 beds in the UVA hospital psyc ward. There is ONE therapist who works on this floor- and she only comes for a few hours each week. Other than that, the patients are left to meet with a doctor once in the morning for around 5 minutes, and with condescending nurses for the rest of the time with nothing but a rec. room filled with children’s toys to distract them from the fact that their conditions are currently worse than many prisons. The difference being that, in prison, you get some freedom- you can go outside. You can exercise. You can get a PhD from freaking Harvard. You can get as many PhDs as you can muster up the energy to work for. You can read, you can use computers, you can do A LOT to further your life in prison. It’s actually even better on death row.

Side Note: (Death row prisoners get access to amazon and are allowed access to a certain number of pornographic images, although in many prisons, masturbation is permissible (Seriously. Look it up if you don’t believe me.). There are also like… conjugation trailers so. yeah. convo for another time.)

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is mental health in the United States. When someone is so emotionally drained and stressed, the thing that people do is call the police. The police can then break down the door of someone who anyone else claimed might harm themselves, and drag them out of their home to an emergency room if they think that’s a fantastic idea. They use handcuffs if you fight. The emergency room physicians can then deem a patient “ok” or they can detain the patient for a “Temporary Detention Order,” which means the patient must, by law, be detained for 72 hours in a mental facility, and can only leave if a judge deems them mentally sound.

Even if you’re sobbing, distressed and suicidal after being left with PTSD from an abusive relationship- even if you’re wearing just a robe, no shoes and no undergarments, and large male Charlottesville police officers bust in with the person who called them- even if you open your bathroom door to large, armed males, and react instinctively by punching the first person to break into your home because you’re scared out of your mind and have no idea what’s happening, the officers have no problem with slamming on handcuffs and holding you down while you sob. Some of the officers actually sneer at you. The largest of the officers has a smile on his face while he yanks on the handcuffs to force you to stand up when you’re too weak to move on your own from the stress of the situation. He snickers to himself as he pulls at you and says “guess we’re doing this the hard way,” as opposed to whatever the easier way might have been. But police and/or authority figures involved in mental health wouldn’t enjoy any part of being extremely brutal to patients/victims/women, right?

Imagine being treated like this and then taken to a place worse than prison because you were so upset that you wanted to take your life. Does it sound like this process will help? Or does it sound like this process itself might leave some emotional scars?

(Police involvement in mental health is a lengthy convo for another time, though.)

Mental healthcare in the United States is actually kind of shit. The place I was describing was what I witnessed in 5-East, a psychiatric ward at the University of Virginia Medical Hospital, a very prestigious institution which also serves as a teaching hospital for medical students- so the practices of the hospital will be ingrained in future physicians of America. This is a PRESTIGIOUS hospital- imagine how much worse it is in small local hospitals, yet this is where we send those who are in so much pain- physical, mental or emotional- that they want to end their lives. This is where we send those with mental disorders like schizophrenia when they don’t even understand what’s happening to them. This place is our best solution to mental illness in America.

We don’t round up people with broken bones, not treat the broken bones, and then stick them all on a floor that’s locked down until we think they’re better, right?

If someone is about to do something that could break a bone, we don’t call the police and have them dragged to the ER and then locked away until physicians think the person won’t make the decision that could break a bone. 

We don’t treat people who have cancer or autoimmune disorders or physical illnesses with disrespect because of their condition. 

Why is this different?

Police images and info on police brutality against women : https://www.copblock.org/47335/badged-serial-killers-the-growing-murder-culture-of-cops-part-iii-by-bill-buppert/

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20 Comments

  1. As a youngster I unwillingly became familiar with those suffering from mental illness when my uncle needed help.
    Of course, I had no idea what it was all about only that my family handled the situation the best they could. Back then
    it was still handled in the very old fashioned ways. (institutionalized, straight jacket, shock treatments, etc.)
    Some advancements and improvements have been made seen then. It is a complicated problem, that touches the very essence of the individual, family and friends, as you would know.
    Love will find a way, Eddie

    Like

  2. This is an apt description of my experience 18 years ago, though I don’t recall the staff being cruel, just apathetic. Still, hour after hour basically gathering dust and five minutes with a doctor once a day, if that…Yep, sounds about right. Thanks for this accurate portrayal.Too many people think hospitalization means you’re actually getting help and too many times, it’s the opposite.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes!! It’s so sad that your experience was so similar- medicine hasn’t made any progress in treatments for psychiatric disorders in 20 years and THAT is truly heartbreaking. I’m so sorry you had to experience what you did and if you ever need to talk or want to talk, my contact info is on my website :))

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes, it is wrong what the police do to woman who have mental problems. My Mother tried to commit suicide twice and was taken to Mental Hospitals. That was in the 70’s in NJ and I believe they helped her a bit and when she got out shoe has continued to see therapists. She told me when she was young she feared for her life in the Hospital. She is a Christian and I know she would say her Lord Jesus Christ has helped her more than anything. I also have a friend who’s nephew is a large man and very strong and has been taken by the police to a Psych Ward because he was violent and his family feared for their lives. They are Christians too and we pray for him to be healed. He is fine on medication, but when he goes off he gets violent. It upsets me that our taxes are being used by criminals to get as many Phd’s as they want, but none of our tax money is being used to help Mentally Unstable people! I think their should be a limit to how many degrees you get in prison and that money should be used to improve the Psychristric Hospitals/Prisons in our Country!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. Actually I think there are too many privately owned prisons… because they were failing in the late 1900s after the govt built a ton and incarcerated a ton of people. Once they started taking less prisoners, the prisons made less money so companies bailed them out and now the prisons are privately owned and make profits by keeping prisoners there for as long as they can. The money they make could be government money and used to help mental health instead.

      Like

  4. Wow. I am sorry that was your experience, definitely not what those nurses’ hope to offer (I’m 100% positive on that). However, as “enlightening” as your post is to your experience, and maybe some others, I’ve heard 100s of others who say the exact OPPOSITE of that particular facility. However, it is very saddening that that was your experience. I am sure constructive feedback that you are capable of would be welcomed to the facility and others like it. Discouraging people to seek help will not aid them in their struggle, write your congress for advocating change and support for growing the resources for mental health needs. You clearly have the motivation and support to do so.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m definitely not discouraging people from going to get help at all omg! I would never do that. But I do think many people aren’t aware of the state of mental health here. And part of what I’m trying to do is enlighten people and bring awareness to those who don’t know. There needs to be a change in mental health here but awareness has to happen for things to change. In my experience and a lot of those to whom I’ve spoken, mental healthcare here hasn’t helped. I certainly hope that it helps others and I hope that people do reach out for help. But I am going to be honest and up front about my own experiences. If other people don’t have the same experiences then I’m very glad that that’s the case! Everyone who stayed there at the time was on the same page as myself though and that part isn’t okay. It’s also a bad system having police involved in mental health like they are and I do want to bring attention to that as well. I have a list of resources on another page for people to call and I would always encourage them to do so. My personal experience with it was negative and I’m open about it but that doesn’t mean others will have the same. I also encourage openness about this topic in general because I think of people were there for each other, there would be much less of a need for a lot of mental healthcare. So I definitely encourage everyone to use the resources available to them. But I also know that these resources need improvement majorly and I want people to be aware of that.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I am sad after reading this. At times my condition has gotten so worse that there is no other choice but to go to a psychiatric facility. But I don’t, after having witnessed the horror of such places (I’m in Pakistan, BTW). This post made me sad, but it also made me feel a little bit less lonely and afraid, so thank you for this. That thing you said about the police brutality itself yielding trauma, that is true and heartbreaking.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow I’m so glad that this made you feel less lonely!! I’d love to hear a bit about the differences between the U.S. and Pakistan approaches to mental healthcare! Are the conditions very bad there? Have you been able to get any help for your symptoms? I’m sorry that you’re going through this. But you’re not alone 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. What you wrote w.r.t to the conditions of the ward is pretty much the same here. Indifferent to the point of violent-when-no-one’s-watching nurses, shoddy facilities underfunded, with underpaid and inexperienced staff running an overcrowded ward full of confused and scared patients. No actual healing environment in that there’s no calmness nor any greenery, and the rec room is just a dull-walled room with chairs and a TV that shows the news channel, which tells stories of terrorist attacks and bomb blasts in the vicinity.
        But the worst part is the misdiagnosis. The psychiatrists misdiagnose a LOT, and then proceed to give the wrong medication (happened with me for six months, made me insaner than I started out with) and provide the wrong treatment. I was first diagnosed as a schizophrenic, and then drug-induced-psychotic, and my family refused to believe me when I told them, in every tone I could say it, that I hadn’t done any drugs. The doctor had said that I had done them and that was the final word. So they treated me with the wrong medicine and when I lashed out and became worse, they blamed me for not getting better. I reached out to others, and discovered that they too were being wrongly diagnosed. Later I learned that I was having my first bipolar breakdown (cool name for a band), and when I confronted the doctor about it she fessed up and said, yes she was wrong, and hey, what can you do.
        Pakistan’s population is 193 million. Around or more than 60 million people suffer from mental illnesses in this country, and most of them go undiagnosed their entire lives because of the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. Ignorance prevails in the country and hinders people from getting help, and when they do decide to go and get help, it is through facilities and hospitals that aren’t doing their jobs with as much rigor as they are applying in other departments. I’m not saying its all bad. Our cancer centers, surgery, gynae, and ER, and that one department that deals with kidneys (nephrology?) are quite good. Mental illness treatment has a long way to go. I know of a distant family member, who after she became ‘mad’, was literally chained to the walls by her family members, because they didn’t know what to do, where to go, or where to admit her. She died like that. I can’t even begin to imagine what must have gone through her in all that time she was chained.
        Other people aren’t a lot of help. They mock, jest, and turn away in disgust, and the only sympathy/empathy you can get is from people who are ill, like you are (you being second person you, not ‘you’, you). For a long time my only other friend was a girl who also had bipolar and was severely suicidal. I’m not the promiscuous kind of bipolar. She was. In my attempts to try to help her back/relate to her, I only hurt myself more watching her hurt herself over and over with drugs and men and alcohol.
        Abuse (sexual, physical, psychological) is rampant here. And most of the women don’t get help for that, not even the ones with the acid-burned faces, not even the ones whose husbands rape them.
        There are two kinds of hospitals here. The government ones, offering next to free treatment. Their conditions, from what I’ve seen and heard, are worse than ye olde Victorian horror lunatic asylums. The other form of hospitals are private hospitals, which are so expensive that most people can’t even afford them.
        There’s no process of rehabilitating/facilitating one mentally ill person such that they can become a functioning part of society again. Once discharged, the patients are left to their own devices, which are the devices which got them sick in the first place.
        Sorry, I sort of began my own blog-post underneath yours. I don’t get to talk about this with anyone. Thank you for this post, because it has helped me come to terms with some stuff that had been sitting uncomfortably in my head for a long time. I have been very lucky in that I, as a literate person, got to do research on my illness on my own, and thus became familiarized with its various symptoms and signs–which made it easier for me to cope with stuff. My dad suffers from the same disorder I do, so he’s been a lot of help of late. After I convinced him that it was really bipolar that I had and not drug-induced-psychosis.
        If I may say, writing what you wrote is a brave thing. It is never easy. So, thank you for writing this and helping others relate to it and understand it.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. :)))) thank you so much for sharing! I’m so sorry that you’ve gone through such bad things and that your country is so far behind in mental healthcare. I’m glad you’ve been strong though. I’m proud of anyone who can handle a mental illness and stay strong like you seem to have 🙂 even if they just make it through that mental illness rather than staying strong, I’m still so proud of them. Thank you again so much for sharing your story and some of your conditions and I’m so glad that I could help make you feel less alone in this because you aren’t alone. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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