Psychiatric Hospitalization: What I Wish I'd Known
... Before My First Inpatient Admission
For some reason, memories of my first psychiatric hospitalization have been on my mind lately. Back then, I knew nothing about going to a psychiatric hospital other than what I heard from my friends at a Christian high school: that during the first 24 hours you were bound to a chair and forced to stare at a blank wall, that psychiatrists listened to your parents and wrote the diagnosis in advance before they ever talked to you, that they would use force and strip-search you, that they would force you to take medication. Christian kids with "problems" were sent to strict boarding schools in the middle of nowhere to be "fixed".
None of this was entirely true. That's one of many things I wish I'd known before my first psychiatric hospitalization. So in honor of those thoughts, here's what I wish I'd known about hospitalization before my first inpatient admission.
Psychiatric hospitalization is not a punishment
My first hospitalization happened when I was in college. I will never forget going to my therapist's office with a concealed bottle of sleeping pills. My plan was to overdose on those pills if I were going to be hospitalized--talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. I was afraid to go to the hospital because I saw it as a punishment for having a psychiatric disorder, and I was in denial that it could help.
I hate to use the analogy of a broken leg, but it's an apt one. When we go to the hospital with a broken leg, it is a legitimate medical problem. The setting and cast, although unpleasant, are not a punishment for having a broken leg. They are medical procedures designed to prevent the injury from getting worse and to help promote healing. Treatment for a broken mind is the same way. Yes, the hospital is not fun, but it is a legitimate medical treatment for a real physical injury.
You are a member of the treatment team
I'm aware this is not the case at every hospital, but you are the most important member of the treatment team. Only you know how you feel. Therefore, while your psychiatrist may talk to other people (usually if you're a minor), you are the one with the most vital information. You know your sickness, and you know how the prescribed medication is affecting you. You are the most important member of the treatment team.
It is so vital that you be a member of the treatment team that I recommend seeking treatment elsewhere if you're not listened to and heard and believed. I did this myself; actually crossing county lines to get to a treatment center that gave me a voice in my own recovery. While this may not always be feasible, fight to be heard. You are the expert at living your own life.
The staff will not hurt you
I've never been tied to a chair and forced to stare at a blank wall; restraints are tightly regulated by law. First staff will try to talk to you, then they will offer medication, then if all else fails and you're in imminent danger, they'll restrain you until you calm down and can be evaluated, usually within an hour. Under the law, they have to use the least restrictive means to protect you.
I've never been forcibly strip-searched. I've been asked to shake my bra and underwear to prove there was nothing harmful in them, but never beyond that. When I turned hostile during one admission, staff remained calm, explained what they were doing, offered me medication and things went smoothly from there. I was always treated with respect, and many times the staff member searching me explained why the search was necessary.
Staff are not there to hurt you and, in fact, are legally and professionally liable if they do. I remember one case in which a nurse was fired for telling a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD) "Why don't you [expletive] do it?" when the patient said she was having thoughts of self-harm. When I was improperly restrained during one hospital stay, the hospital was cited for multiple violations of state law. You have rights and those rights are taken seriously.
So that's what I wish I'd known and would say to anyone facing their first stay in a psychiatric hospital. The hospital is not a punishment. You are a member of the treatment team. Staff will not hurt you. Remember these three things to make your stay easier.
Oberg, B. (2012, March 7). Psychiatric Hospitalization: What I Wish I'd Known, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/borderline/2012/03/what-i-wish-id-known-about-hospitalization-before-my-first-inpatient-admission
Author: Becky Oberg
occurred at a former job. The actual experience wasn't bad though afterward, it wasn't
necessary. If there is a reader contemplating hospitalization and you are not a threat to
yourself or anyone, avoid it. Also, if you go, DO NOT TELL ANYONE.
No matter how good, open you are, the stigma will be effected on you and you will greive
it through the course of your life. As a result of being open about it, I lost most of my
friends from that time period. Was made fun of and passed over for promotions. If I knew
what I know now, I would not have allowed it.
This was the worst seven weeks of my life.
NOTHING THEY DID HELPED ME IN MY RECOVERY JOURNEY.
Within our organisation, our clients are integral to all aspects of their recovery and are included in every step, kept fully informed. Our clients have all the information that we have and are encouraged to participate fully in meetings about themselves.
Our role is basically one of assisting them with their decisions in life, giving them tools to aid them, but it is their decisions to make, and they also need to take responsibility for these and the outcomes.
Others are under certain orders for their, or the public protection, ie forensic orders or Involuntary Treatment Orders. Even so, they still have certain rights that protect them from abuse, ie least restrictive practices etc...
Recovery is a process, a journey, and everyone travels that pathway in their own time and in their own way, decided by the client and I am lucky enough to assist them in this if they choose.
Unfortunately, in every field of human endeavour, you will find those who are not helpful, to those who are very helpful. Those who will listen to the experts (those who are experiencing it) and those who believe they know better than those who are experiencing it (what you are going through).
At the moment, the western world appears to be going through a transition phase from the purely 'medical model' of helping to one that is more holistic.
Everyone has rights, and in Australia at least, we have the Disability Standards which are meant to protect and serve people who have 'disabilities'.
Not that it means much, but, I hope that everyone have better and more helpful encounters with those who are meant to help, and that your road to recovery continues in a positive way.
My advice to people in Australia is to ask for the number of the Official Visitor on admission. Then quietly let staff know you will call the official visitor if your Human Rigts get violated do this at every shift change during the first few days.
Step two is request to see the Consumer worker a member of staff who had a lived experience of mental illness. Ask them to explain recovery too you.
My personal experience of being admitted to an inpatient ward over ten years ago was the most traumatic experience in my life. When I was admitted the staff knew I was having delusions about the war in Iraq. They left the TV on and the then PM announced we were sending troops in. Apparently I broke the VCR what I don't understand is why it took seven nurses to subdue me I was under 70kg at the time. I was then given a needle against my will that wiped my memory for the next few days. After this they started taking my blood (I did not know at the time this was mostly to do drug tests). In the beginning I was allowed to wrap my arms and legs around an attractive male nurse due to my fear of needles later they would punish me for my attachment on said nurse. They continued to drug test me for at least the next five weeks up to daily. I have to this day never done an illegal drug. They sent nurses in to befriend me and try to make me confess to smoking cannabis which I did not do. Eventually my mother was able to stop the drug testing at first they refused to believe my parents and visitors that I didn't take drugs. I behaved inappropriately with other patients because I was manic without supervision. I was placed on a medication I clearly had an alergic reaction to on Friday and was forced to stay in it till Monday. My parents provided much better care for me once I came home, but it took seven weeks before they would release me. Recently I heard very disturbing rumors about worse Human Rights abuses in that psych ward and although I believe they are true I have no evidence to take to police. Patients are frequently locked in their shared rooms at night.
Recently a few friends of mine were placed in a local psychiatric emergency care unit (at different times). I was not allowed to take small nail polish in, they were not allowed to have a kindle, staff spent most if their time in the fish bowl observing patients through CCTV, one person was held there for more then a week (it is supposed to be a 72hr max) before leaving while still suicidal, another person was held for a suicide attpt when it was really just a medication problem, one person was released without any paperwork sent to his GP or given to him and that held up the process of him claiming in his income protection insurance. Their are no activities in PEC and I believe boredom relates to poorer outcomes for consumers. People should not be left alone
with their unwell thoughts.
If you can manage without hospital through help from NGO's and support groups, and private psychologist and psychiatrist avoid public hospitals at all costs. Only go there if the alternative is you won't survive.
Thanks for any suggestions. Take Care
Accusing the staff of being "mean" to them or being abused was the most common form of revenge used by the patients and their family members.
I'm sorry you were traumatized by your admission and stay.
I went through the unit in 6 days. Overall, I'd have to say it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be.
I also went to a psychiatric hospital in Connecticut (I'm from Pennsylvania)
for 3 weeks. I was strip searched the first week because I had cut myself and they were afraid. I didn't mind it at all - they were only doing their job to keep me safe. Once I was "certified" not a risk, they stopped and I went to the River House where things were a bit more normal.
Psychiatric Hospitals are a necessary evil for those of us who have a mental illness. Hopefully, I won't ever have to traverse those hallways again. With the proper meds and talk therapy I feel like I'm in remission.