7 Things I Learned at the Psych Ward

Does the title of this blog scare you? Does it make you laugh? Does it make you cry? Make you shudder? It might do one or all of those things. Most people never want to admit they have been to a psychiatric hospital. I can’t say I would have ever dreamed I would be talking about this out loud, but the path between me and a psych ward is pretty long ago and I feel like there is something to be learned from every experience. 

As a mental health advocate, I believe we should never be ashamed of getting the help we need. In this spirit I share …

Here are seven things I learned at the psych ward:

1. It is no fun to be locked up

My first trip for inpatient care was 17 years ago, and I was terrified when the door locked behind me. I understand the door is locked for patients and public safety, but it does not discount my feelings of fear. It reminded me of all the bad things I had ever heard about mental institutions. Yes, even though I might not have been in my best frame of mind, I still had thoughts and feelings. There are places that do not lock the door, but those are few and far between. No sugar coating: Being locked away was a degrading feeling.

2. Most people there are “normal”

What is “normal” anyway? Well, that’s your average everyday person who has goals, dreams and a life outside of the hospital door. People from all walks of life visit the psych ward every single day. They are just normal people — husbands, wives, daughters, sons — they just happen to be struggling with an illness.

3. The staff is a reflection of society (stigma exists)

There are good people, bad people and somewhere in between who work in the psych ward. I have been treated extremely well by many people, but I have also been discounted, discouraged and disenchanted. Some staff are very knowledgeable and willing to teach about a specific illness, and others can’t wait until their shift ends; just like in the society outside the ward’s doors.

4. You don’t recover in the hospital

Think about being hospitalized for any physical illness.  A person who has had open heart surgery is not going to get well over night in the hospital. We are a quick fix culture, especially when it comes to mental illness, but it takes time and effort to fully recover.

5. Some people are more sick than others

Mental illness is on a continuum. Every disease has common signs and symptoms, but will manifest differently in each person. Some people will never get well and probably need to be in a hospital for continuous care. However, most people can get better.

6. Some places are better than others

I have been in a hospital that had a swimming pool and basketball court, but that’s the exception. I have also been to a place that did not have enough chairs for everyone to sit. The most important thing is that a person gets the right kind of care that they need and, clearly, some places do provide it and others do not.

7. They don’t want to keep you there

Contrary to popular belief, psych wards do not want to keep people there. One of the biggest issues we have in America is the poor mental health treatment that is available. It is often poor because people who need treatment can’t get treatment, and if people get treatment, they don’t keep people long enough — the average inpatient stay in the United States is 7.2 days. For some illnesses, that is not long enough.

Read more of Amy’s posts here.

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