Two years ago today I returned to Scotland after spending Christmas in my home country.
I was very unwell, but I don’t think I really realised how unwell I was.
Thankfully I had an appointment with my CPN the next day and thankfully she realised how unwell I was. And it was during that appointment that she decided to take me for a little trip to the local psychiatric ward for a psychiatric assessment.
As I sometimes do I’m thinking about where I’ve been at the same time in previous years, and when it comes to the past few years, thinking about how far I’ve come and how glad I (mostly) am to still be here.
And so I got thinking about that day and about psychiatric hospital in general – what psychiatric hospital means to me, what my opinion of it was growing up, my opinion of it two years ago and how that opinion has changed over time.
When I was growing up
There is no psychiatric hospital in my home town, but there is one in the neighbouring town. It was where the mad people went.
I don’t think that it’s somewhere that we imagined that any of us would ever spend any time as a patient – whereas of course the thought of spending some time in a general hospital for a physical health condition was quite familiar to us.
The thought of staying in a psychiatric hospital was almost… shameful.
As teenagers my siblings and I went through a stage where we mocked each other over stuff and the taunt was that we’d be sent to the local madhouse.
I was saddened earlier this year to see on a Facebook friend’s status someone making the same joke / taunt that they would be sent to the local madhouse. It made me wonder ‘are we really no further on, over 15 years later?’
Two years ago
When my CPN suggested bringing me to hospital to be assessed by a psychiatrist that day I agreed because I trusted her. I was also a little scared of what might happen if I refused.
On the way there CPN asked if I wanted to stop off at my flat for anything. I asked her ‘no, why would I want to do that?’ to which she replied ‘to get stuff like your toothbrush’.
This surprised me. I think my reply to her sounded like ‘Don’t be silly, I won’t be staying’. I might have agreed to go to psychiatric hospital for an assessment, but I wouldn’t be staying. That was just such a silly idea. No way was I staying in a psychiatric hospital!
I went to hospital with my CPN. We waited in the reception area for the psychiatrist. As we were sitting there waiting, someone I knew walked past us and out the door. I hid my face. It was someone I knew who worked in the community centre which is situated beside my workplace. I automatically hid my face so she didn’t see me. I couldn’t have someone I knew seeing me here.
Six weeks later
Six weeks later I did end up staying in that psychiatric hospital as an in-patient. I was open with people in my life about where I was. Ok I didn’t shout it from the rooftops but I needed support, I needed visitors and I needed a change of clothes, so these were the main reasons I was open with people.
By the time I was discharged from hospital my opinion about psychiatric hospitals had changed completely from what it was when I was admitted.
When I was admitted to hospital I thought that psychiatric hospital was somewhere that provides support to patients, that helps people get better.
On discharge I thought that psychiatric hospital was somewhere that provides no care to patients, that pay them no attention, that don’t listen to them, that just leave them in bed with nothing to do, and ultimately just make their patients worse.
I didn’t know if that generalisation was actually true of all or even most psychiatric hospitals or just the really shitty one I had been an in-patient in, but it certainly clouded my judgement of them in a really bad way and psychiatric hospital wasn’t somewhere I intended being again.
Well, as luck would have it, I did end up staying in a psychiatric hospital two and a half weeks later. I asked what would happen if I refused, and the psychiatrist said that I might be made go against my will. So I agreed to go voluntarily. But luck really was on my side as there was no beds free in the local hospital and I was sent to one further away. And within two minutes of arriving on that ward I could see that they were so much better than my local hospital.
Since then, I have not been back to hospital and I don’t intend to be.
Well, not as a patient anyway! I will be back in the grounds of the local hospital in February, but that’s to give mental health first aid training to the public, so that’s another success story in itself.
I am no longer ashamed of having been an in-patient in psychiatric hospital. I had (and have) a mental illness and this is nothing to be ashamed of – just like having a physical illness is nothing to be ashamed of. I deliberately speak about my stays in psychiatric hospital in the same way that I speak about the time that I stayed in general hospital with a physical health problem.
Now I would love if we could each talk about psychiatric hospital in the same way that we talk about general hospital. No more jokes, no more taunting and no more shame. There is really no need for it, and each of us acting the way we would if there was no distinction between physical and mental goes a long way.
I can see that a lot needs to be done to improve the level of care in our country’s psychiatric hospitals. I would like to see more people speak out about the poor level of care they and others have received, so that people can stand up and take notice.
For me, I don’t expect to ever go there again. It’s not that I don’t think I will not get that unwell again – I might hope I won’t get that unwell, but I will never know that for sure, and won’t take that for granted. I know that my CPN knows that hospital is not somewhere that will help me. And I know that if anything hospital for me is somewhere that would really just make me worse.
I still feel appalled by the state of my local hospital. I want to do something but right now I’m a bit of a lone voice. But hopefully with time I can figure out what, if anything, I can do to improve things locally.
But all in all, it’s been interesting to see quite how much of a turnaround I’ve had in my opinions of psychiatric hospitals in those two years.
I don’t intend in staying in psychiatric hospital again. But that is because it will be a risk to my mental health – not because of any sense of shame, and not because I’m not crazy enough.
There are no people who are ‘crazy enough’ for psychiatric hospital. Because just like any hospital any one of us might have a condition which may require us to stay in psychiatric hospital. There are no crazies and there are no normals. We are each just as we are – no more, no less.
So maybe give a little thought to your own views of psychiatric hospital. How do yours compare to mine… as I was growing up? Two years ago? Now?
Do you find yourself thinking negatively towards those who have stayed in psychiatric hospital? Or do you think of them just the same way as you do a ‘normal’ hospital?
Another thing that might surprise you is quite how many people you know who have been patients in psychiatric hospital. But you probably will never know how many or who they are.
But it is by each of us considering our opinions towards psychiatric hospitals, and questioning our own attitudes, and of course letting go of that shame, that over time others will let go of their own shame and their own fears, and allow themselves to speak openly and to feel ok about it.
Together we can do it!