Before joining the online mental health community, psychiatric hospitals were somewhere I definitely didn’t want to be- I’d only ever heard about them in the news, or from family and friends who told horror stories of the people locked up in ‘the mental’. I’d been threatened by CAMHS and I’d been doing everything to Stay Away from them. But when I logged on to Tumblr and stumbled across the ‘recovery community’, I began to read about the experiences of people who were actually in psychiatric hospitals, and it wasn’t long before I learned that within this online community psychiatric hospitalisation was somewhat glamourised (or probably more likely, ‘normalised’- in that it was seen as almost really common instead of highly unusual as is the case in ‘real’ life)- new friends, kind nurses, no responsibilities, a break from the ‘real world’, 24 hour treatment for you illness- what doesn’t seem appealing about being in hospital
But it’s not all joking with other patients and nice nurses tucking you in to bed and wiping tears from your face and emerging weeks or months later Cured. Inpatient is often a complete fucking nightmare. So I thought I’d compile a list of reasons as to why exactly being an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital isn’t as glamorous as it sometimes seems and why hospitals aren’t always a safe haven and welcome break from your illness. This is Part I and I’ll be posting more over the next while!
- Missing home- For most people, being separated from friends and family and put in a new, strange environment is unsettling. I remember a few times during my admissions this year feeling really homesick. Which sounds silly because I live about 10/15 minutes away from the hospital, but there were nights when all I wanted was to be at home, with my family and a hug from my mum. And it hurt. For some people (particularly those with an unsettled home life) this mightn’t be so relevant, but even if you don’t miss ‘home’, chances are you’ll miss home comforts- sleeping in your own bed, showering in privacy, eating what you want/when you want, getting to pick what you want to watch on TV…little things
- Unhelpful comments by staff- I was lucky. Most, if not all, of the staff I’ve worked with on the two wards I’ve been on have been lovely, but that’s not the experience of a lot of people- or to say that I haven’t had a few unhelpful comments. I remember being brought back to the ward in tears by police after absconding and a nurse scolded me for being “selfish” and for “worrying [my] mum sick”. Which was a fair comment but 100% not helpful. Or the time when a nurse joked “pass me the butter knife” when talking about Adele’s songs, which made me feel uncomfortable despite being over a year self harm free. I’ve spoken to a few people who said they were told that if they were really suicidal, they wouldn’t be talking about it, they’d “go and do it”, and a friend I’ve been in hospital with refused her medication, was told she’d be injected and so took it orally and the nurses then told her if she was “really manic” she “wouldn’t have complied”. So being in hospital doesn’t mean you’ll be surrounded by understanding and supportive staff- they can say shockingly unhelpful, ignorant and hurtful things
- Agency staff- staff who don’t normally work on the ward doing bank shifts. My last admission was particularly bad for this, with almost every single shift being covered by at least one bank member of staff. Which meant they weren’t familiar with the ward, the ward rules and how things worked, the other staff, patients or patient care plans. Which makes everything a whole lot harder for everyone. It’s little things like needing a chat but not feeling comfortable with unfamiliar staff, or asking for something because other staff are busy and being told ‘I don’t know, I’ll have to check’. And it’s dangerous too- if a staff member doesn’t know you, your risks, your history or your care plan, they might make decisions which a nurse that’s familiar with you might not. During my last admission I was initially admitted to a different hospital where I knew none of the staff. The first morning I asked if I could go for a walk and the nurses said “you only came in last night, we don’t know you yet so we need to keep an eye on you first”. So on the same principle, if there’s a bank staff on, they won’t know you, and therefore can’t be expected to make informed decisions on your care. So when there’s lots of bank staff on a lot of the time, poor decisions on patient care can be made
- Attachments to staff- it’s easy to become fond of staff when you’re with them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, particularly if you’re in for a long stay. My first admission was 2 months long, which allowed me to build up some good relationships with two of the staff in particular, and as I’ve been in and out a few times since, I’ve become close with more staff members too. I find it hard if I don’t get to say goodbye to my favourites before I’m discharged, and on the first few days home I feel a bit wobbly without having all my favourite nurses there to cheer me on. And sometimes months after discharge if I’m having a bad day or bump into them in town, I’ll find myself missing them, or wishing I could talk to them- and I can’t. Thankfully I haven’t had a ‘serious’ attachment to any of the hospital staff, but it’s easily done- these people see you at your worst and help pick you back up and for many people can be a source of care and compassion they desperately need and have been lacking
- Unwell patients- everyone’s in hospital because they’re unwell, and chances are there will be people ‘sicker’ than you. I remember during my first admission one of the patients would walk around the ward chanting the same few words over and over and it took me days to work out what they were, and when I did I wanted to cry- “I’m happy I’m happy I’m happy”. It never gets easy seeing patients emerge from the dorms with blood on their legs, or hearing grown women scream and cry, or lie in bed silently sobbing, or sitting next to a psychotic women because the people she sees want you to sit next to her or hearing alarms and the noise of restraints as someone is carried off to ECT (with another patient raging about how inhumane it was), or watching a catatonic mute pick up a pen and write answers to questions for staff, or seeing the sterootypical antipsychotic shuffle and watch as patients spill food all over themselves because their hands are shaking so much from the side effects of their medication
- You’re very unwell- back when inpatient was being discussed with CAMHS, my mum, teacher, CPN and psychiatrist were all busy telling me hospital would be full of very sick people. But no one really warns you that you might be the sick person- that you might be the one who alarms are pulled over. You’ll be on close obs, have the bathroom door unlocked, be scanned with a metal detector on returning from leave, be picked off the floor in tears, be carried to bed because you’re so sedated, climb on the hospital roof, found after self harm incidents, spend days in bed unable to move, pacing the halls with anxiety or agitation, absconding; you might be sectioned with no rights or injected with meds or threatened with those things. You’re not there for a holiday, or to check out of life for a bit: You’re there because you’re struggling to take care of yourself in the community and are a serious danger to yourself or others, and realising that can in itself be upsetting