Psych Ward: What It's Really Like
By Natalie Patrick

The media tends to show a very unrealistic idea of what a psych ward looks like. Movies and television shows glamorize it into something that it’s not. In season four of my favorite show, Bates Motel, they portrayed an unlikely scene of what mental hospitals are really like.

Psych Ward: What It's Really Like

I’ve never told anyone

In most cases, if you ever find yourself in a psych ward, you’re most likely not going to have a fancy room, extravagant meals, or activity rooms where you can play games or get in touch with your artistic side. Maybe these special places do exist somewhere, but in all likelihood, you’re going to be on a long waiting list, you’re going to have to travel far, and you’re going to be paying a doctor’s salary just to get in.

It’s unfortunate that the media does this. Blinding you with this romantic idea that mental hospitals are a vacation getaway. That’s why I want to share with you my personal story of staying in a psychiatric ward. If you’re looking for a creepy, haunting ghost story, you’re not going to find it in this post, sorry.

I have never told anyone about my psych ward stay, but I think it’s important that I tell you my story so you can get a more insightful look. Everyone has a different experience, and each mental hospital will be different in their own way. My goal isn’t to deter you, but to be honest about what you will expect if you ever find yourself needing help and treatment from these facilities.

What it’s really like – My personal story

In the fall of 2014, I had become really depressed. I was working too many hours at work doing a job that I could no longer physically or mentally handle. Many things happened that year. My stepfather died, I bought my first house, and I landed a high paying job. But I was constantly so busy helping my mom move, getting myself moved, and working non-stop that I never had time to process any of these events. I lost a lot of weight. I weighed 94 pounds, was getting no sleep, and the depression was taking me further down.

Not knowing what else to do, I made an appointment with my family doctor. He prescribed me an anti-depressant, and I was hopeful that maybe this time it would work. Since I was 14, I have tried many different kinds of anti-depressants, but none of them ever seemed to work right. They tended to make things worse, but I had to do something.

I attempted suicide

After taking them for a week, things got dramatically worse. My world came crashing in, and I felt there was nothing to live for. I attempted suicide by overdosing on my Xanax prescription. Little did I know, my life would be forever changed after that moment.

I don’t remember much after I swallowed all those pills. It was like a blackout for the longest time. I don’t recall my husband finding me or taking me to the hospital. I don’t remember anything until I awoke the next day after being transported to a different hospital in the next city. Everything was very hazy. I was confused and had no idea what was about to happen next. My family was nowhere to be found.

A woman was sitting next to me, and she immediately got a nurse to unhook my IV when she saw that I was somewhat awake. Grabbing my arm as tight as she could, she forced me into a van where I would be transported, again, to another hospital. Not just any hospital, but a mental hospital.

1in4 mental health anthology

You become their property

When I arrived at the psych ward, I could barely function. I felt sedated. Not knowing quite where I was at, I recall feeling scared beyond belief. I was forced to sign papers. Later, I learned that in the state of Missouri, if you get admitted into a hospital after a suicide attempt, you, basically, become their property. You will be forced to go to a psychiatric hospital against your will, and it’s up to the doctors there to decide when you can be released. This infuriated me. I felt trapped, and there was nothing I could do about it.

The first day, I was absolutely sure that my husband and mom put me in there, and I was so mad at them. But they didn’t do this to me. I, unintentionally, did this to myself.

No freedom whatsoever

After signing papers, I had to remove all of my jewelry before I could be put in my room. Mental hospitals have strict rules about a lot of things. You can’t wear anything with strings: no belts, no jewelry, and you can’t wear any clothing that they find offensive.

Also, you can’t have any toiletries containing alcohol. Every time I wanted to shower and wash my hair, I had to ask permission for shampoo and conditioner and body wash. They would give me a tiny cup of product that was barely enough to wash anything.

If you’re a smoker, you can’t have any tobacco products. They will give you a nicotine patch to help reduce your cravings. If you bring makeup with you, you have to apply it in front of a nurse, especially when using eyeliner.

No razors were allowed at all. All of this is to protect you from hurting yourself and others, and I understand why they do this. At times though, it makes you feel like you have no freedoms whatsoever.

Dirty facilities

When I was able to recover from my incident, I was able to fully concentrate on my surroundings and my situation. The facility I stayed in was by far the most unclean hospital I have ever stayed in. My bed smelled of something I can’t even describe. Under my thin mattress, I found old crayons from the patients before me. The floors were dirty. This drove me crazy as I consider myself to be a clean freak.

I cringed at the thought of having to use the bathroom, and when I did I hovered as far from the toilet as I could. I would wear sandals that my husband brought me each time I showered. This place was like a dirty, old hotel, and I did anything I could to avoid direct contact with any object or surface. It was, also, really cold in the psych ward. I’m not sure why they kept the temperatures cold, but it was very uncomfortable. The facility was very outdated, and poorly cleaned.

The other patients

I had to share a room with another female patient. She was nice to me, but she hardly spoke because she spent most of the time sleeping. I don’t remember her name, but she told me she was coming down from heroin. That’s why she slept so much. She had track marks all over her arms and legs. I have to admit that I was a little frightened. Being in a foreign place with all these strangers made me uncomfortable.

Eventually I ventured out into the TV room, where most people hung out during all hours. I met quite a few people. Some of them were battling mental illnesses of all kinds, and they needed treatment to help get them back on the right track. Some of the patients were in there because they had drug or alcohol problems, which confused me. I thought there were specific facilities designed to help people with drugs and alcohol. But it seems that the hospital I stayed in accepted just about anyone, even if they didn’t have a mental illness. I also learned that many of these people were homeless.

The doctors lacked kindness

On my second day at the psychiatric hospital, I met with the psychiatrists. Sitting in front of a group of doctors, they evaluated and asked me a lot of questions. The visit was brief. I couldn’t help but feel intimidated by them. The psychiatrists never showed any compassion or much kindness, in all honesty. They weren’t mean, but they could’ve at least smiled or something.

They diagnosed me with Bipolar 1 Disorder. I was relieved and scared. The doctors explained to me that I was misdiagnosed all along, and that’s why the anti-depressants had such a severe reaction in my system. I needed medication specifically for helping bipolar disorder. It all made sense, really. I was able to understand my behavior and actions with this new diagnosis.

A proper diagnosis

If there’s one positive thing I can take from my experience in a psych ward, it’s that I, finally, received a professional, proper diagnosis. This alone has helped me in getting proper treatment. I learned about manic episodes and what to look for, which was nice, since I’d only ever understood the depressive episodes. The doctors immediately started me on a new medicine to help with the bipolar disorder.

Luckily, most of the nurses I had during my stay were really nice and helpful. They would check on me every 15-30 minutes to make sure I was okay and wasn’t trying to harm myself. I felt like they really cared. Because of their kindness, it made my stay a lot easier.

I felt like I was being punished

I just wanted to go home, of course. My nurses gave me a lot of informational documents on bipolar disorder, the symptoms, and treatment options. They were very good about giving patients anxiety or sleeping medicine when they needed it. Most of the patients were asking for anxiety pills every hour. Not me. I wanted out of that place.

1in4 coffee mug

I figured the best way to get out of there was to act like I’m fine and all better, and if I kept asking for all these pills they would think that I needed to stay in there longer. So, I went without when I experienced an anxiety attack. I only took the medicine for my bipolar disorder.

Admittedly, I felt like a criminal being in there. From the moment I arrived, I felt like an attempted murderer going to prison. I felt like I was being punished for having a mental illness. Having to stay in that hospital against my will, I had to dress the way they wanted me to, eat when they wanted me to, sleep when they wanted me to. I couldn’t go outside. I couldn’t call my husband. There were so many rules.

Family visits

The hospital did allow family to have visiting hours once a day for thirty minutes. My husband and mom showed up every day for the week that I was in that place. It was nice that they cared and wanted to be there for me, but they made it harder for me. Each time I saw them, it was just another reminder that I couldn’t go home.

When they would leave, I would cry in my bed for hours. I just wanted to be with my husband. Until that moment, we had never been apart from each other. The saddest part was seeing my fellow patients all alone. I was one of the very few that had family visit. It broke my heart that most of them didn’t have a single family member or friend come to see them. It made me realize how blessed I was to have my family.

Staying in a psych ward definitely isn’t any fun, but I am forever grateful that I now have a proper diagnosis. The food was terrible, but I had a meal to eat every breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There wasn’t any counseling, but I enjoyed talking with the patients and nurses there. There wasn’t many activities for us to do besides watching TV. The weekend before I left, the nurses let us watch movies all day, and that made us all excited. They also let us drink decaffeinated coffee.

Finally able to leave

After spending a week in the psych ward, I was finally able to leave. I’ll never forget that excited feeling of knowing that I was about to go home. I could sleep in my own bed, use my own bathroom, and, most importantly, I could be with my husband. The hospital set me up with a psychiatrist that I would begin to see once a month, and I still see her. My psychiatrist is an amazing woman. She cares, she listens, and she has helped me find the best medication to treat my bipolar disorder.

It’s been a rough journey, but my experience in the psych ward has allowed me to find the best care and treatment. My stay may not have been all glitz and glamour, but it has saved my life and taught me a lot of valuable lessons. Sharing my story did take some courage. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I want you to know that there is no shame at all in getting treatment for your mental health. Taking care of your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

My advice

If there’s one thing I want you to take from this post, it’s this. You should see a professional that specializes in mental health when addressing mental illness. A family doctor is not enough in assuring that you get the proper diagnosis and treatment. You don’t have to go to a psych ward to get the help you need. Call your insurance company to find out about psychiatrists in your area. It may take some time to get into one, but it’s well worth the wait. And if you do go to a psych ward, make sure you’re honest with the doctors and nurses there so they can better help you.

Reproduced with permission, originally posted on thatsnatalie

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  1. mythoughts62 7th January 2018 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    I’ve been to the psych ward a fair number of times. The two biggest differences from your story is that the psychiatrists I had while inpatient were very kind and empathetic, and the hospitals were all spotless, just like you’d expect in a hospital. Years ago when I first went inpatient, there was daily individual one n one and also group therapy. We had art lessons. Nowadays, none of that.

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