Psych wards are daunting places to say the least and it can take several days or even weeks to settle in. But once you do settle in, you start noticing that as well as noisy patients and intimidating staff, there are other stranger 'worst things' of psych wards. Like the loss of freedom, the boredom, the loneliness and the uncomfortable beds!
Even when a person isn't on a section, they do lose some freedom. They still have to abide by the rules of being at the unit at certain times (usually back on the unit by 8 pm) and staff can still stop them from leaving the ward if they believe it to be necessary.
When on a section, it feels like you've been put in prison. Until you have your first ward round, you're not allowed to leave the confines of the unit, sometimes not even allowed off the ward itself. Then it's usually a case of one hour escorted by staff or loved ones around the hospital grounds. This will reduce the cabin fever that normally sets in after a few days but there is a sense of relief when you get your first precious hours away from the hospital grounds and into the local area.
Being escorted when out on leave is another 'worst thing' of psych wards. Even when a member of staff is in normal clothes or you're with loved ones, paranoia sets in and you feel that everyone around knows that you're a patient in a psych ward. I even get that feeling now, despite being given unescorted leave a few days ago. I also know that these fears are irrational, but I still worry that people somehow know.
I'm very lucky this time round with regards to my leave. At my third ward round, I was given two hours of leave to go around the local area. I had to be escorted but I didn't care. I was desperate to get away from the hospital grounds! Last time I was in, it took six or seven weeks before I was given leave to go to the local area so it's a lot better this time round.
Boredom is another real low point of psych wards. Even when there's activities twice a day and leave to go out for a few hours, psych wards are really boring places. I've debated playing a few of these games to liven things up but that would get me in trouble. And don't worry, I haven't really debated playing any of those games!
Then there's the loneliness. Even if you get patients who are really friendly that you can have a good laugh with, there's still a very strong sense of being alone. Patients come and go and that patient who you have a good laugh with could get discharged tomorrow. Or they could have a bad day tomorrow and not feel up to getting out of bed.
Speaking of beds, an uncomfortable bed may sound like the least of a person's worries in a psych ward but boy does it make the stay that good bit worse. The springs have long gone in the bed I have here leaving it like a sack of spanners. I've been in three different rooms this time round (long story) and all three were the same. The beds are relatively new though; this unit only opened a few years ago so the beds shouldn't be this bad!
Having an uncomfortable bed means that sleep is even harder to get. At least, it is for me! When I first came into the unit, I was still in a lot of abdominal pain and the springs sticking up in the bed made for a very sore night. Even now, I'm trying to get used to the lumpy bed but I'm still finding it difficult to get a good night's sleep. On saying that, I did have two good nights in a row a few days ago but I'm back to waking up in the night after being poked by a spring. Not sleeping properly because of stress is one thing but not sleeping because of an uncomfortable bed is something that patients shouldn't have to worry about.
There are other little niggles in psych wards that can worsen a stay. Although I have an en-suite bathroom here, the shower is absolutely rubbish. Barry Scott (the Cillit Bang guy) really needs to come in and sort the shower out! Then there's also the lack of trust that staff have of you when you first come in which makes you feel like a criminal. Having your bags searched on arrival is never that pleasant.
But I think the overall worst part of psych wards is the power that the staff have over you, especially when on a section. In the first hospital I was in (it was a really bad hospital), nurses sometimes wouldn't let patients go out on leave for minor infractions. I saw one girl being refused leave because she didn't eat lunch (she wasn't in for an eating disorder, I think it was depression). The nurses here aren't like that thankfully, but the power the nurses have is daunting.
Even worse than the nurses are the doctors. They can force medications and other treatments on a person without their consent. They can authorise nurses and HCAs to use force, sometimes painful force, to get a person to take unwanted medication that causes painful side effects. I also nearly had forced ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy AKA Electroshock therapy) during my first hospital stay. My family didn't want me to have it either, and they were seriously debating smuggling me out in a suitcase. I'm so relieved that I was too physically unwell to have it.
With all that said, I have to say that things here aren't that bad at the moment. I have two hours of unescorted leave into the local area and there is talk of letting me off the section as early as Tuesday. The only issue is the medication I am on. I don't know how that will pan out, but I'm hoping it will work in my favour. I'll try and keep my Twitter updated with how things are going but please bear with me! If you're not on Twitter but want to read my tweets, follow this link.