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What Is It Really Like to Stay in A Mental Hospital?

I was diagnosed with bipolar about 16 years ago and it took years for me to find an effective treatment. At the time, I was very suicidal but I wouldn’t go to a hospital. I said, and I really meant, “I would rather die than go to one of those places.” But, much to my surprise, a few years later, when I was again very suicidal, I checked myself into one of those places. I stayed in a mental hospital.

What Are Mental Hospitals Like?

Mental hospitals, or psychiatric wards (which is, technically, where I was), are all different. Some offer the basic service of keeping you alive while others offer all types of therapies and treatment. Some are really designed for shorter term stays, like three days, while others are more able to handle longer stays such as those of a few months. It really does vary. And I would say that the quality of care available at different mental hospitals vary as well.

What Was My Stay at a Mental Hospital Like?

I admitted myself to the mental hospital after tearfully explaining to too many professionals in the emergency department that I was acutely suicidal. Doctors, of course, made the ultimate decision to admit me. Once there, they went through the few things I had brought with me, confiscated my medication (except the birth control pill) and showed me to a bed (it was late by the time I got there – hours in the emergency room to blame).

Not surprisingly, I was in pretty bad shape so every, little thing seemed like an ordeal. I brought, quite intelligently, my own tissues and used far too many of them (those given out in the hospital are scratchy and unpleasant if you’re going to cry your way through the days).

The next day a general doctor came by to assess my overall health. Basic blood tests were run, my blood pressure was checked, that sort of thing.  And then my psychiatrist (who worked at the hospital) came by. He promptly changed my medications drastically. (Not surprising considering how badly I was doing but rapid medications are highly unpleasant under any circumstances. It seems to me, though, that this type of treatment is more common in the mental hospital as doctors know that any side effects that come up will be medical supervised and while unpleasant, are likely not dangerous.)

The idea of staying in a mental hospital can be scary, but what is it really like to stay in a mental hospital?The next morning I woke up to a nurse shaking me awake and yelling at me to come and have breakfast in the common room. I said to the nurse, “I can’t see.”

However, she didn’t hear me, she didn’t believe me or she didn’t care because the last thing I remember was her leaving my room yelling at me to go have breakfast.

At that point I realized something. I realized that if I looked straight down, I could see my toes. I didn’t know why I could only see my toes, but somehow, that day, I made it to the common room and ate breakfast, only looking at my toes.

What had happened, of course, was side effect. For me, the medication was so strong I couldn’t wake, and when I was forcibly awoken, I remained so stoned that my eyelids, physically, wouldn’t open. This gave me the impression of blindness but, really, it’s just that I could only life my eyelids a tiny amount and thus could only see my feet.

I saw my psychiatrist again that day and explained what had happened. While I was rather disturbed by the experience he didn’t seem concerned in the least. I can’t remember if we adjusted things at that point or if the side effect wore off on its own. I saw him most days and we tweaked things regularly.

I was then introduced to group therapy – an every morning event – and art therapy — every other day. And that was it for the therapies offered. It was pretty lackluster.

What It Was Like for Me to Stay in the Mental Hospital

In my case, as I was in a non-locked ward and I had signed myself in, I could sign myself out for short periods of time too so while I was “in” the mental hospital, I actually spent a lot of time in the park next door.

I will say that while I was there, they mixed up medications twice – I have no idea why. Maybe a doctor who writes too fast, maybe too many changes at once, who knows. But the nurses never took kindly to being told that.

I will also say that I thought the nurses were mostly crap. While I’m sure it varies all over, my experiences with them were mostly negative. When I went to speak to them at the desk, they would literally ignore my presence and go on about their conversations as if I wasn’t there. And I, being extremely sick, was in no position to assert myself. It’s like they thought they should ignore me because I was “crazy.”

I was also allowed to use the phone (one per floor) when I wanted – not that I really wanted to talk to anyone.

I had visitors and I don’t remember there being any set hours for their visiting. Someone dropped off books and another took me home so I could shower there instead of at the hospital.

All in all, it was really unpleasant. But then, I was so depressed and so suicidal, I can’t imagine anything being anything but unpleasant.

I cried my way through two weeks there until I and my doctor thought I was okay to go home. When I admitted myself I never thought I would stay that long. I thought they would keep me from killing myself for a couple of days and that would be it. But, instead, my doctor did want to see an improvement of some sort before I left.

In my next article I’ll sum up what I learned in the mental hospital and whether I think others should go to mental hospitals.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

84 thoughts on “What Is It Really Like to Stay in A Mental Hospital?”

  1. I lost my 26 week old daughter over 3 and a half years ago and I still feel like the world’s ended and what it would be like to die so I could be with her.

  2. I’ve never been to a hospital but I’m considering admitting myself because I’ve been imagining ways to kill myself and the urge to do it has never been this bad. This reoccurs everyday several times a day. I’m not diagnosed with any disorders but I believe I may have ADD, PTSD, bi polar and possibly schizophrenia (I’m not entirely sure because no one ever hears or sees the things I do when they happen). I’ve never been ballsy enough to attempt suicide but I have a history of cutting pretty bad. Never too deep, but deep enough to leave a gaping scar. I used to be “addicted” to cutting but the urge went away when it wasn’t enough anymore. The urge is coming back but I hate the scars I have already enough to resist going through with it. Now I struggle with intrusive thoughts and I’m unable to do anything to move forward with my life. I have motivational issues and it’s entirely too exhausting to care for myself. Due to past events I don’t see myself as beautiful or useful and I have insecurities that my mind uncontrollably exaggerates daily. I overthink and pick apart everything until I drive myself insane laying there with heartache because I can’t get myself to stop thinking. Memories from my past are eating me alive and I can’t take stress or myself anymore. I’m going crazy and I never though I would ever reach my breaking point. I’m close to losing my sanity and it’s because of everything in my past and present. I don’t want to go to a hospital but I don’t feel safe in my head. If I admit myself I’ll be worried about everything happening that I can’t see and I’ll go crazy being confined. But if I don’t admit I don’t trust myself to stay safe. I refuse to tell anyone what I’m feeling because I’ve built a barrier between showing emotion and being emotionless and I can’t break that facade. I don’t trust anyone and I can’t bring myself to trust even the one person I love most because I can’t let myself be hurt. I don’t know what to do because a part of me doesn’t want help so I can give up and another part wants to try because I can’t imagine losing my sanity completely.

    1. What you are describing sounds like a personality disorder. Personality disorders are one of the worst mental disorders to have, you sound like you are explaining borderline personality disorder but it’s hard to tell without the right questions. I suggest you get an appointment with a psychiatrist and see if they can diagnose you. If they do then you will be given medication and/or a recommendation for a form of therapy. I highly suggest you look up personality disorders and check if you have one because you sounds like you do. Stay safe.

  3. my mom wants to put me in a psych ward because i hsve “”delusional thoughts”” when i started talking about my beliefs about myself (?? i wouldnt say thwyre beliefs because theyre true and i know theyre true and my girlfriend knows theyre true) and my brother thinks i have schizophrenia even though im only 14???? its rly funny because when i was younger (7-10, i had gone through a severely traumatic experience st age six so that Might be why this is all happening) i always talked about how i was actually a cat, and once in a while i actually had images/sights of me being a cat and i told my mom about it because it had confirmed that i was a cat!!! my mom reacted strangely since i was “a little old to be playing pretend” but i wasnt playing pretend at all i was actually a cat . i guess this kind of stuff has “escalated” in a way??? like sometimes im still a cat but for instance im for the most part supposed to have eight-fold vision and im a god and i helped create this universe which is true because i remember doing it and my girlfriend says that she does too since she also helped, and only now my mom wants to send me to one!!!! i mean i Guess that its probably “not normal” but when youre a god ur not. really normal. i guess im only on here to vent about stuff but like. how do?? i convince my mom that im not “delusional”???????? ive been panicking for two days straight because mom told me that she might send me to a psych ward and i dont want to go to one because they make me scared and feel sick

    1. Hi Si,

      Thank you for reaching out. I’m not quite sure what to tell you. I certainly can’t diagnose you online but what I can say is that your thoughts are very unusual and you may need help to deal with them. In other words, your mom may be right in getting you help. This could be a very positive thing for you. I have been in the hospital and it isn’t like you see in the movies. Please understand this might be the best place for you.

      – Natasha Tracy

  4. When I stayed at a mental hospital it was actually good. This was a hospital for minors, all of us were under the age of 18 and did not have major illnesses as it was a low-level one. I arrived at 2am and was greeted by one female nurse and one male. They were nice and asked me questions regarding why I was there and how I calm in case if I ever got triggered by something. I went robbed in a guest room because I would have a roommate and they couldn’t bring me into the room in the middle of night. My roommate was amazing we actually became quite close in the week I was there. It was a short term hospital and allowed roommates. Only females had roommates and I had two. We became quite close and we supported each other. The staff was nice and would play games with us. The doctors were not there often, but did not bother us much. The nurses were okay, but the therapists were much more comforting and were more enjoyable. The other patients were nice and welcomed me. I was also the youngest there so I was very nervous, but the staff made me feel at home. I was actually pretty sad to go, but now I’m feeling better and hopefully never have to go back.

  5. I’m the mother of a 25 year old who has been dealing with schizophrenia and anger about 5 years, and we have used every drug halodperiod to the new one rexuilt and nothing seems to work, so he us self medicating with marijuana and beer, what to do.

  6. ThatKid, I really encourage you to just call one of the crisis lines and get help. My daughter has most of the same things you do, and she has had three hospital stays. Each one helped. It is the best place to figure out meds in complicated cases, because they watch the side effects closely and can really make dramatic changes. They are also really good at diagnosing, so your home doctor will be better able to help you once you get out — right diagnosis, right meds. They are scary and instrusive and boring, but worth it. Yes, tell your parents, but if they don’t listen, call the crisis line yourself.

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