Experience of A Psychiatric Ward

13 Feb

I’ve not been able to write about this so far as I feel I have been re-traumatised in a number of ways during my stay in the psychiatric ward. But now, I am going to try and write about my experiences and hope it is therapeutic for me. I am probably going to go over things I’ve mentioned before but I just want to write it all in one place.

When I arrived on the ward, I was terrified. My care co-ordinator (cc) who also happens to be an AMHP met me out of the ambulance and took me in. They showed me to my room and only when my cc said that I’m really uneasy around men, did they move me to another one which was in a female only area of the ward. But all amenities were in the mixed bits; i.e. the dining room/visiting room, lounge (where the tv was), all information boards and the nurses’ station.

That first night was a terrible one; I was wide awake and didn’t get any sleep at all. I just kept thinking about how on earth I’d ended up here in my life. I felt angry that I hadn’t coped with my emotions better, but I was convinced that I’d see the consultant in ward rounds the next day and she would let me go home. Or at the worst, would be there for 2 days.

I spent the night crying and trying to get used to a flashlight being shone in to my room every 15 mins (and over the following 2 weeks, if by chance my eyes weren’t visible, then they would come in the room which would invariably wake me up!!)

So my first day I waited all day until it was my turn for ward rounds. This is basically where you go in to a room with a consultant psychiatrist, the nurse in charge on that shift and you are allowed an advocate as well. Luckily I had the same psychiatrist as the one I had been seeing in the community so she knew me and how I normally am. Unfortunately, she was also the one who came out and sectioned me and so she told me there was no chance I would be going home so soon. That the reason she felt it would be a good idea was to try and break come of the cycles that I had found myself in and that would take a number of days.

I went back to my room and carried on being checked upon every 15 mins but no one ever told me any info on what the routine of the ward was. I knew there were set times for the meals but wasn’t sure when they were and to be honest I still felt sick and didn’t want anything to eat. The main reason behind this was the whole mixed ward thing. I was so anxious about hearing males shouting throughout the day and night (obviously having their own issues) and hearing the heavy handedness of the staff dealing with them and the different sections of the ward going on lockdown. This was the main reason I wasn’t leaving my room and why I didn’t eat or drink for 3 days.

It was on day 3 that I managed to get to speak to a nurse who explained that on every shift handover, my notes were: no food or drink, isolating herself, low in mood and not engaging with staff or other patients. She told me that if I stayed like this then I wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. I explained that I thought I was doing everything they asked by taking my medication when they called me. I didn’t realise that I had to ‘engage’ with staff and patients – I didn’t want to speak with other patients, I was too anxious and couldn’t be bothered. But my other point was that I had to work. It had been arranged that I could use my laptop and internet in my room and as I had self assessment deadlines to complete and as I have my own business I made it known that the worst thing for me was to lose clients as I would have nothing to go out to.

When I explained this to the nurse she said I had to start coming out for meals and that I could take my work up to the dining room (but only use internet in my room) and that would show I was making an effort. So that night when I couldn’t sleep and one of the staff asked if I wanted to sit with them for a while, I said yes and sat talking to them. I realised that this was their game and I had to abide by their rules to get out as quickly as possible. And so over the weekend, I sat and worked in the dining room and only going back to my room to connect to the internet. I also had lunch and dinner (never breakfast) every day – I waited until the last minute so the dining room was mainly empty. I cannot say how much this whole process was difficult for me; it took every bit of courage I had to go to that dining room every time. I never spoke to anyone, I didn’t want to but at least I was showing that I was trying.

On the Monday (so nearly a week from when I was admitted), my cc came to see me. I have never been so grateful to see a friendly but professional face. We were allowed to speak in my room and I explained that over the weekend I had looked at my goals for the future and had written them down including smaller steps to achieve them. She said she could see a difference in me and that she believed another few days would do me good. I explained that I felt I had accomplished quite a lot and its usefulness had peaked and felt I should go home. She told me she would speak to the psychiatrist and give her opinion but ultimately it was up to them to decide the best way forward for me. I was quite hopeful that at the next ward round, I would be discharged.

On the Tuesday evening, I was in the dining room doing some work when the shift changed and the nurse in charge told me I couldn’t use my laptop in communal areas, only in my room. I explained what I was told about isolating myself because I had to work and essentially she said tough it was her shift and her rules! The thing that annoyed me is that an hour later I went up for a break from my work (and thought I better show willing), and there was 4 people round 1 table with music blaring out as they swapped tunes between their phones. And on another table there were 2 guys who had a laptop and a keyboard trying to make some music. So why on earth were they allowed theirs and me, who was sat quietly in a corner, not allowed mine. I was so angry!

Anyway, ward rounds came around again and I was quite excited as I thought I would be discharged – er that would be a no then!! I was told I had to prove I could keep myself safe in small bits of time and so I was given ground leave (which meant I was allowed out of the ward but not off the hospital grounds). I had to gradually increase it every day and work up to having my first overnight leave on Sunday.

I don’t think it’s important to talk about those times out – the overwhelming feeling was anxiety and panic attacks but I kept going because I had to show them that I could do it.

On Friday I became ill with my chest being tight. I have asthma but I haven’t had to use a spray for a long time and so I didn’t have one with me. On Friday evening I asked if I could get one prescribed – I was wheezing and coughing and struggling to get that big breath. I was awake all night until at 5am they gave me a tablet that knocked me out. When I woke at 8am, I asked again for an asthma spray and was told they still didn’t have one. I asked if I could have access to a peak flow meter so I could check my levels to see how things really were, but I was told they didn’t have one of those either.

By Saturday evening, one of the nurses said I sounded really ill and was I ok? I explained about my asthma and me asking a number of times to no avail. She promised she would sort it and an hour later I had my spray.

Also on that Saturday night, I was taken to one side by another nurse who introduced themselves as my key nurse. Bear in mind I had been in for 12 nights by this point. He said that he had been off for 3 weeks (why on earth was I allocated to someone who was on leave!!) and we just had to go through some paperwork. In some ways it did explain why I had slipped through the net on so many things (e.g. not being called for my medication 2 nights on the run!!!).

So the paperwork turned out to be my care plan which someone who had never met me had written and had things on there that made no sense at all. It read like a template text where my name had just been added. I asked for certain things to be taken out and my key nurse (who was also male, even thought they knew what I am like around males!!) asked if there was anything else I wanted adding. I explained that the next day I was going on overnight leave and if that went well then I would get 2 nights leave before being discharged and so there really wasn’t any point adding anything at that stage. Another thing that was a complete joke then (are you seeing a pattern!!)

So Sunday arrived and I left for the day/night and was excited to be leaving the ward and going back home. Unfortunately, I was still ill with my asthma and so on the Monday morning I went to my GP and he said it had flared up and he prescribed me steroids. However, he said that the side effects were increased anxiety and disturbed sleep and so asked that they were approved by the doctor on the ward to make sure they knew about it. So I went back to the ward a lot earlier than I had planned and found all my stuff had been packed up and my room given to another one of the women. I took this as a positive as it meant they didn’t think I would need it again!! I spoke to an SHO who explained that I had to look out for increased anxiety and let them know if the steroids made me worse. Luckily, they didn’t!!

On the Wednesday I went back to the ward for what I hoped to be my final ward round. I also had a therapy session on the ward at 2.30pm. I was told the ward rounds would be in the morning and so I arrived in plenty of time. Obviously I didn’t have a room and so I had to sit in the lounge (not a good start!!). It reached 12pm and I asked someone when it was likely my ward round would be as I was told it was the morning. They went to find out and told me that the SHO was in the ward next door and would be over soon. Around came 2.20pm and my therapist turned up and I was really angry by this point (I think it was my anxiety from being in the lounge and having no escape that had got too much for me). I explained everything to her and said I wasn’t in the place to do anything because I was too het up. Instead she went to find out what was happening for me and was told the SHO would be over soon (like the 2 hours ago soon I had been told?!?!)

Eventually at 4pm, the SHO came over and said she was sorry, there had been a mis-communication and as I was the only one on this ward with my consultant I had been overlooked (I really shouldn’t have been surprised). The 5 minute chat went ok and she agreed to discharge me. I just had to wait for my medication and then I could go home. So back I went to the lounge and waited, and waited!!

After asking numerous times, I finally lost it. It was now 6pm and I was fed up. I told the nurse that they had 10 minutes to sort my medication out, and after that I was leaving with or without it (didn’t really think it through because I was in a locked ward!!). They actually took me seriously and went on a hunt for my medication – the pharmacy said it had been sent but they couldn’t find it and even checked the ward next door and it wasn’t there. Finally they located it – still at the pharmacy and guess what, the pharmacy had now shut for the night!!! They ended up giving me medication from the ward stock and would replenish it the next day.

And that was me, angry but a free woman!!

And that was generally my journey through the 2 weeks of being on a section 2. In more general terms, there are a number of things I noticed that really shouldn’t be experienced by anyone, never mind someone who is in a bad place with my history.

I know the NICE guidelines say there shouldn’t be any mixed wards and I truly agree with this. I believe my time would have been a lot different if I didn’t have to deal with the whole mixed ward thing. The hospital I was in has two acute wards, so why can’t one be female and one male instead of 2 mixed ones?

It became apparent very early on that those who shout loudest get the most attention. There were times when 1 man had 6 members of staff following him around ‘just in case’ he kicked off again. It must be just as frustrating for those staff as well but when things like my care plan being 12 days late and them forgetting my medication 2 nights in a row, it just shows that if you put your head down and get on with things, you get ignored.

Also things became normal in that 2 week period that really shouldn’t be. Things like hearing people screaming not to be injected and the sound of all the internal doors being shut and locked. Also hearing people sobbing (including myself) at all times of day and night and also shouting throughout the ward. These are things that are still with me now – pathetic isn’t it!!

The other thing that I noticed was that no one ever explained the way things work e.g. what happens at meal times, the fact you have to fill a menu in for the following day. The times you are allowed to shower, just general things but ones you are left to feel about to learn. These might seem like small things but when you are in a place because of mental illness, these small things are actually huge!!

I know a lot of this post has been about what went wrong in there (and I have left a lot out) but there were also some good things. The night staff always had a lot more time and so I found that period the best for me as I could talk to them and sometimes sat with them for a while.

I have no doubt the other staff were just extremely busy and although it felt very personal when ignored all the time, that really wasn’t their intention. They obviously work in that role because they have some kind of caring side to them, but I guess the paperwork etc meant they couldn’t show this very often.

As I mentioned in the original post about being detained, I never blamed my cc or psychiatrist for sectioning me. For them to do it, they believed that at that point it was the best place for me. They are the ones with the experience and I can’t argue with that. All I do know is keeping me in there for 2 weeks did more harm than good and now I am left dealing with another uphill battle!


Posted by on February 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


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5 responses to “Experience of A Psychiatric Ward

  1. #Sectioned_

    February 13, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    It’s grotesque that people suffering from mental distress end up being traumatised by their stay in hospital. When you’re unwell, you need first class care and treatment. Incarceration in a chaotic and brutal environment provides the opposite.

    Money is tight but it’s nonsensical that simple measures that would make a difference and would cost no money are not done; things like making it a point to tell patients on arrival what the ward routine and rules are, and showing them round. Everyone starting a new job gets an induction; guests arriving at a hotel get a welcome pack; people suffering mental distress need more care, not less. Despite the best intentions of some staff, it seems their role is reduced to that of zoo keeper.

    Going into a hospital environment like this may, during the period of detention, physically prevent a person from committing suicide (though 5 sectioned people die in hospital each week on average). However, the trauma of the detention may make those very same patients reluctant to ask for help in future; and this is despite the fact that their detention may have added a new trauma to the mental distress they were already suffering.

    It beggars belief that this is going on now, today, in this country. Shameful.

  2. Claire

    February 13, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    What’s the purpose of the flashlight every 15 minutes?

    Whoever isn’t enforcing single sex wards is clearly male. Men in distress will make aggressive noises. This will be intimidating for women in distress. I know the higher pitch noises that women make can irritate men. It sounds trivial and as if I’m stereotyping, but it’s a serious issue.

    By the way this is Claire from twitter. I’m going to move over to blogging so thought I’d pop along to your blog and say hello.

    • femaleptsd

      February 17, 2012 at 11:58 am

      Sorry Claire only just seen this. I’m going to check out your blog later – how you finding writing it?

      The purpose of flashlight every 15 mins is to check that your still alive. Personally think is pointless anyway because if I was going to do something, if it was immediately after a check then 15 mins was more than enough time!!

  3. sharing your frustration

    December 6, 2013 at 12:27 am

    I just want to thank you for this post. I have dealt for many years with periodically severe PTSD stemming from early childhood sexual abuse. It has been an excruciatingly difficult road. Last month, triggered by the holidays, I suffered a major, swift episode of decompensation and ended up checking myself into a psyche ward, mostly because my wife was concerned I had been cutting myself.

    I also found it pretty much completely crazy how the place and rules and non-communication, etc. was structured. While I am sure that much of what is dehumanizing about psyche wards is also so for people with other disorders, I was struck that it seemed just about the worst possible environment for major trauma survivors.

    Thanks for writing this piece. It was heartening to know someone else had been through something similar.

  4. Sol

    July 20, 2014 at 6:50 pm

    I am sorry. I cannot even read this whole article. I, too, have ptsd from various inpatient psych wards and ERs. I also was put INTO medical danger more times than I can count, then blamed. Psych wards and ERs are the LEAST safe place for me. How ironic, terrifying, and sad.


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