During my time in the first psychiatric hospital I was in, I noticed that the cleanliness of the ward left a lot to be desired. For one, I noticed a giant dust bunny beside my bed on the first night I was in that was still there when I was discharged, eight weeks later. A cleaner visited the ward everyday, but she generally just restocked the toilet roll and paper towels. About twice a week, she would mop some of the floors with disinfectant so strong that breathing became difficult and many eyes started watering.
The ward had three dormitories, each with five beds and a small bathroom, which had a toilet, sink and shower but no bath. There was a public bathroom, which had a bath that patients could use, but it was shared between the whole ward. Each dorm was given one small toilet roll a day, but this toilet roll was so thin (seemingly one-ply), that we rarely had toilet roll left after lunchtime. The roll provided wouldn't have lasted a day for one person, never mind five! And that’s not even taking in consideration the fact that a lot of psychiatric medication, antipsychotics especially, cause havoc with the bowels. The situation was ridiculous. My parents would bring in tissues for me to use and other patients had the same idea.
One morning during my third week in, I noticed that the staff toilet had a small pyramid of six toilet rolls on top of a cupboard. Thinking that I had solved the toilet roll situation for that day at least, I walked into the staff toilet and picked up one of these toilet rolls. I was nearly back at the dorm when a healthcare assistant (HCA) told me to put the toilet roll back. I told her that our dorm bathroom didn't have any toilet roll but she just shrugged and told me to ask the cleaner.
I asked her where the cleaner was but the HCA didn't know. I told her that I would go and look for the cleaner but the HCA told me I wasn't allowed to leave the ward. I asked if she would find the cleaner and get a toilet roll for us but she said she was busy. Getting extremely frustrated, I asked what I was supposed to do with no toilet roll despite there being six spares in the staff toilet. The HCA shrugged.
“Not my problem.”
After this, I invented a game called 'Steal the Toilet Roll'. I would wear my baggiest jacket and pretend to be going into the public bathroom as it was next door to the staff toilet. The public bathroom had a similar toilet roll problem. Due to the positioning of the staff toilet and the public bathroom, I could close the bathroom door noisily from the outside, but not be seen by the nurses in the office. After closing the bathroom door, I’d take a toilet roll from the staff toilet, hide it under my jacket and then open the bathroom door, pretending to have just walked out. I would then get to the dorm as fast as possible without raising suspicion, and share the spoils with my fellow patients. I was never caught.
A couple of weeks later, the unit manager came around to speak to all the patients individually to make sure we were all OK. She only visited the ward three times during my eight-week stay, but each time she always seemed to try her hardest for all the patients, a stark contrast to most of the nurses and HCAs there. That morning, she spoke to another patient in my dorm first, who had quite a few complaints about the hospital. However, after emphasising the toilet roll situation, the unit manager seemed quite shocked. Once she had spoken to everyone else, she sought out the cleaner to make sure we always had plenty of toilet rolls. She told the cleaner that if she ever found out about us going short again, she would be taking action!
From then on, we were given around three toilet rolls a day, which was just enough. Not having to steal toilet roll was a relief. After the unit manager’s input, I only had to steal toilet roll once, and only did this because I believed asking a nurse or HCA again would result in a similar situation to the one previously.
Being provided with sufficient toilet roll isn’t in the Mental Health Act as far as I’m aware, but surely it is very wrong not to be given any when it is needed? Especially when a patient is detained under the MHA and can’t leave the ward to get more! I’m just grateful that my parents were able to bring those tissues in for me, and that the other patients in my dorm had access to tissues too. I’m not sure what patients in the other dorms did, but the situation was ward-wide, except in the staff bathrooms.
When psychiatric nursing is done correctly, it can impact positively on a patient and even reduce the length of time a person is in hospital for. When it is done incorrectly though, the impact on a patient can cause them to become even more unwell and lengthen their stay. It can have lasting damage to a patient, affecting them for years after their stay.
A psychiatric hospital is a place where people who are suffering with their mental health should be able to feel safe in as dignified a manner as possible. Psychiatric patients are human beings, and should be treated as such. There are too many negative stories of psychiatric wards. There needs to be change for the better, and fast.