What Are Psychiatric Hospitals Really Like?
How Have Psychiatric Hospitals Changed?
When you say the words "psychiatric hospital" many people have visions of patients being forcibly medicated and strapped to a bed. While that may have been true some years ago, western facilities have come a long way since then. While you can still be forcibly medicated and strapped to a bed, patients tend to be treated with a lot more respect. Staff also have to go through a lot more training than they used to. The days when anyone can get a job as a psychiatric nurse are long gone. Now you have to go through rigorous training to work with the mentally ill. Most of the staff are incredibly passionate about what they do and truly want to help you as much as they can. These things have helped contribute to the change that we have seen in psychiatric hospitals. The problem is many people still see them as being almost taboo places, that assumption needs to change
My Experience In A Psych Hospital
When I was 16 I was admitted to Fairfax Behavioural Hospital in WA. For several years I had struggled with depression and anxiety and in my Junior year of high school it all became too much and I tried to kill myself. I agreed to go to Fairfax voluntarily because I knew that I needed help and I wasn't safe at home. I spent one week on the Child and Adolescent Unit. During my time there I was stabilized with medication and given some coping mechanisms for my anxiety. I made some great friends who I still talk to now; it was immensely people for me to be surrounded by people that were going through the same thing as I was.
Since I was voluntary I had a big say in what my treatment was but I was treated no different than the kids that were involuntary. We were all treated firmly but with respect. No one was ever strapped down- not even the girl who was having a psychotic break. We had a schedule everyday so we knew what was coming up and it was all very structured. Most of it was group therapy.
Group Therapy, LOTS Of Group Therapy
Pretty much from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed I was in group therapy with the rest of the patients. Different therapists would come in and talk to us about different things. One woman would teach us about actual psychology. We were taught about how emotions affect us and about the illnesses that we were struggling with. A lot of the patients found it boring but I enjoyed learning more about my depression and anxiety. As I learnt more I felt less confused and scared about the future since I soon realized that I wasn't going to feel the way I did forever.
One of the other people who came in would teach us about different coping mechanisms. We would talk about unhealthy ways to deal with how we felt and then talk about better ways to deal with our emotions. It was helpful to hear different suggestions from both the therapist and the other patients. We spent a lot of the time doing this therapy and putting into practise what we had been taught. The doctors wanted to make sure that we had as many coping mechanisms that worked for us as we possibly could before we left.
For about two hours a day before and after lunch we would participate in recreational therapy. This included playing sports in the gym, doing art projects in the art room, or playing relevant games outside. It was the only time aside for meals that we were allowed off the unit. Of course we were supervised by health workers and nurses but for that time I kind of forgot that I was in a psychiatric hospital. It was nice to get off the cramped unit and blow off some steam.
Most of the sports we played focused on teamwork. Basically it was teaching us that it can be easier to work in a team than to try and do it all by yourself. It also had the added benefit of giving us some much needed exercise. Art therapy was my favourite since I'm a very creative person. While I was there I was allowed to pick an art project that I would stick with and try to finish before I left. It gave me something to be proud of when I had finished and also taught me that once I've started something I should finish it.
There were two psychiatrists in charge of the unit I was on. They offered a diagnosis and prescribed medication and certain therapies. I didn't get to spend a lot of one-on-one time with my psychiatrist. After I'd been there for a few days he called me over to the side during breakfast to ask me what was going on. Since I'd already had a diagnosis of depression and anxiety all he did was prescribe me some new medication. That was the only time I say him privately. He did meet with my parents when I was first admitted and again for two hours with me present. We discussed my treatment and what was going to be done after I left.
I do wish that I had been able to talk with him a little more and have some individual therapy. I understand why he couldn't do that though. I wasn't the only patient in the hospital as since it was an inpatient facility he wasn't just there for therapy but for everything to do with the patients. Despite the fact that I didn't get to spend much time with him, the psychiatrist was very respectful towards me. He didn't make me feel guilty or like I was attention seeking like everyone else had. After speaking to him I realized that I was sick and being in the hospital was nothing to be ashamed of. I could tell that he loved and took his job very seriously. I think many psychiatrists are like this now since it takes so long to become one and the school is expensive, you would only go through all that if you were truly passionate about helping those with mental health issues.
Taught us about psychology
We played team sports
Would give a diagnosis
Taught us new coping strategies
We got to do art projects that were overseen by an art therapist
Prescribed new medications
Gave us a chance to share our experiences and feel less alone
We would sometimes go outside and play games that taught us something helpful
Gave a treatment and after-care plan
Are Psychiatric Hospitals Helpful?
I can't speak for all those who have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital, but for me my stay at Fairfax helped me tremendously. I'd even go so far as to say that if I hadn't gone there then I'd be dead. When I was admitted I was in the midst of a crisis, I was a danger to myself. The staff at Fairfax helped me through it. Without them I don't know what would have happened to me. Being there gave the doctors a chance to give me new medication and keep me in a controlled environment.
I was lucky that I got to go to an impatient hospital. I had to go to the ER three times with suicidal thoughts and attempts in the space of two weeks before I was finally admitted. There aren't a whole lot of psychiatric wards that take children so many kids are left to struggle. This puts the burden on parents, schools, and outpatient facilities. Because of this children with problems don't get the help they desperately need.
Don't Be Ashamed
The myth of what psychiatric hospitals are is one that won't be easily dispelled. Many people are ashamed when they are admitted to one but I am not. I was sick just like if I had a physical illness, I wouldn't have been ashamed if I had to go to the hospital because I'd caught a virus so I won't be ashamed for going to the hospital for being suicidal. I think if people know what psychiatric hospitals are really like then they'll be more likely to seek help when they need it. Of course no one wants to go to a hospital but if they know that they won't be treated like an animal then they may ask for help.
The myth about psych hospitals is due to the stigma that surrounds mental health in general. This stigma is slowly but surely becoming smaller as people begin to understand what mental illness really is. Hopefully one day going to a psychiatric hospital will be seen as no different than going to a general hospital.
If you have ever been to a psychiatric hospital please share your experience in the comments,. If everyone talks about what they went through then we can help more people.