Psychiatric Hospital Experiences (Part 1): Patient Stories

About a month ago, I read an article on called Things I Saw As A Psych Ward Nurse Too Dark For Horror Films. In it, a male nurse shares his experiences working in a huge psychiatric hospital where he saw, experienced, and participated in many horrible things. Those who follow the subject for a longer amount of time probably will not be too surprised because it is extensively documented how terrifyingly grim so many mental health facilities and health facilities in general are. However, I spent some time reading the comments under the article and wanted to post them as a separate article. I have selected a few more interesting ones where people share first-hand experiences of either staying in such a facility as a patient or working there as a staff member. It's a lot of text, so I decided to separate the comments into two posts: one for patients' stories and one for workers'.

Here's PART 1: PATIENT STORIES. [Language unedited, except for a few typos for clarity.]

Comment 1:

The smaller stuff isn't any less damaging to mental patients, especially in facilities that "treat" patients with more minor issues. It's a relative term. So I was in a ward for people who seemed fairly normal, again, a relative term, but had supposedly threatened suicide, or threatened to murder someone. There were about I'd say 20 people in my ward. Funny thing is, I couldn't find one who had actually threatened any kind of harm. I didn't. I saw a school therapist because I had angry thoughts, and since there had just been a school shooting, he decided that invasive angry thoughts translated to "is going to murder people if I don't have him arrested."

There was another woman in there. Didn't threaten suicide, but they locked her up when she used hyperbole to make a point about how mad she was. Another woman had her son commit suicide, so they decided to lock her up, even though she wasn't suicidal.

We all hated it there. There was one woman who committed herself voluntarily. She didn't even make it past a few hours before she wanted to go home. It was too late, though. They already had her. One woman kept begging for her epilepsy medication, but they refused. Still not sure why they gave me mine. Lo and behold, she had a seizure.

The psychiatrist they assigned me to didn't give a f**k about anyone there. Nor did most of the staff. We only saw each other once or twice a day for about five minutes, would never discuss what was really going on with me, and he'd always say "I guess this is a real life lesson, huh? You know not to say those things now, don't you?" He just kept saying it. I'd walk out of every session depressed as hell. So you're not here to help me? I'm here to be punished? He was an ass to everyone. The rest of the time was just group therapy. It was all voluntary, but if you didn't go to each and every one, you didn't get to go outside for the day. Oh, you've never had any problems with drug addiction, so you don't want to go to the session about that? I guess you didn't want to go outside anyway.

So yeah. I'm never going to downplay the stuff in this article, and I'm never going to say we went though what they did. But words can be just as harmful. I didn't have PTSD before I went in to that place, but I sure do now. We all hated it there. A lot of the people there made it quite clear that we were a burden, that we didn't matter, and that they weren't there to help us. They were there to break us so that we wouldn't be a bother when we got out.

I'll never forget it. The first day I was there, I sat next to someone who had been there a little longer. She turned to me and said "this is your first day, huh?" "Yeah, how do you know?" "You have that broken look."

Comment 2 (a response to comment 1):

This. This is very similar to what I went through. I didn't want to read this article but it was like a train wreck drawing me in. I was forced into "voluntary" hospitalization over having suicidal thoughts (despite the fact that I wasn't in any position to harm myself or anyone else and was thus not an "active danger".) They told me I could go home in three days. They told me exactly where I was going to be and I agreed to go because it was supposed to be in a nearby ward in the best hospital in the area.

Of course they lied. I was sent to a mental hospital several cities away, just barely an adult. It went from "voluntary" to "ignore every request I had about information on when I was being released." Hardly any contact with the outside world. We didn't go outside. Ever. We stayed on that floor with the locked hall doors and received zero help from the "psychiatrist" of the hospital. We would see her for less than 5 minutes a day, just long enough for her to adjust our medication (I was wrongfully diagnosed as bipolar and almost forced to take lithium, another woman was overmedicated to the point that she was crying on the phone to her lawyer about the problems the meds were causing her). And the other patients. I can see them all even though it was almost 8 years ago. One of them would scream like the man in the story. Just scream and scream until I felt like I was the one screaming even though I was trying so hard to act normal so they would just let me go, and all I wanted to do was scream because of how terrified I was.

The only reason I got out was because my parents were able to show up eventually and it took three days for them to convince the doctor that 1. I would go straight to my therapist and not be out of anyone's sight, and most importantly 2. my insurance would stop paying and they wouldn't get paid. They let me go after that became apparent.

I too have had to add PTSD to my list of mental health problems now. There were years that went by where I would hide from ambulances if I heard them coming down the street. I'm terrified of doctors and hospitals - even non-mental health ones are triggering. I've worked through a lot but I still get flashbacks and the worst part is, it took years to find a therapist I could talk to without fearing they would commit me. I'm not suicidal anymore but I would rather die than go back. I can't even find any solace in sharing with people who also have PTSD because I didn't get it from the same experiences they did. You're the first person I've actually heard say that their stay in a psych ward caused it.

People think when they hear the words "psych ward" that they're only for the mentally insane, the violently dangerous. the mentally disabled. We get thrown in there too. High-functioning people with depression who reached out for help, not knowing where to turn, and found hell.

Comment 3:

When I was psych the staff was one of the few things that kept me from going even more crazy. They were VERY fair and protective and on the ball. They stopped me from getting hurt by other patients. They even went out and bought us all cigarettes when we ran out.

They took SOOOO much verbal and physical abuse too.

They also worked 12 hour shifts and would be tired as f**k most of the time. I never asked, but I doubt they were getting paid very much.

I'll be eternally thankful until my dying day that landed a hospital run by good people. Psych was horrible, I can't even imagine trying to get through it while being abused on top of it.

Comment 4:

When I was younger, I tried to take my life. I had no insurance so I got stuck in a place for 3 or 4 days that gave me PTSD.

When I got there, they showed me a white room with a table with brown leather restrains and a bight overhead light. They called it the quiet room and said it was where people who misbehaved went. The others and I saw two or three different people go in there. I only seen the reason why for one and it was because he hit a trashcan (it was on my last day and he had been perfectly kind otherwise). They were pinned, taken in there, strapped down to the table, and given something that made them look out of it. Then the door was shut. We saw it all because it wasn't that big of a place (I think about a dozen patients total?) and they never tried to hide it.

They gave us only paper scrubs to wear in a mix gender wing. I had to beg for my panties while crying which came in handy as I soon started my period. One man had the ass ripped out of his paper pants and when I pointed it out (thinking I was saving him embarrassment), he charged me like he was gonna hurt me. The other male patients had to stop him from hurting me (the nurse did nothing). He came to my room (which I shared with another woman) several times and stared or tried to come in. Again, it was the other patients who kept me safe especially when he came by late at night. Most of my fellow patients were kind and helpful as they seen me as the only bright spot in the place. I acted kind, perky, empathetic, and positive (always was and still am). It was how I have always hid my sadness and it turned out that my mentality helped them.

There was a reason the needed that. Everything was white and there was no decorations because the staff said we didn't need stimulation. No music. No tv. No books. My dad came to visit to which they told him it was not visiting day (it was) and turned him away only allowing him to leave a t shirt out of all the clothes, panties, books, and personal effects (like a toothbrush) he brought. It was actually his because he thought I might like it to sleep in. I curled up with it every night like a teddy bear and kept it hid afraid they would take it away.

The therapy was glorified brain washing and the opposite of helpful. The first time I seen the doctor was the Monday they released me. My dad picked me up and I basically parroted what they had told me to say and looked like an ass. Anything that reminded me of the place sent me into a panic attack. My doctor later changed the meds they put me on because of side effects.

Years later, I had gotten off my antidepressants because I was trying for kids with my then partner. I started feeling depressed and a little suicidal, but wouldn't tell anyone because I was scared of ending back in that place. So I went on like that for a year fighting every day to do things with my worse days including getting out of the bed, eating, and showering. Nobody knew though. Then one day after a particularly bad week (insane random bills, smelling another on my partner when we were fooling around, 30th birthday approaching, dog injured, period cramps, new therapist not listening to me including me saying I was getting bad and if anything happened to me she shouldn't blame herself...) I sat down to write a note. Before I did anything stupid, I was able to stop myself and call a hotline for help. I was taken to the ER and evaluated before they sent me to inpatient treatment at another hospital.

This time I had insurance so I didn't end up in hell, but I still ended up traumatized there and had nightmares months after.

My first roommate was nice, but she had explosive diarrhea and pooped everywhere and used my toothbrush (I caught her). The toothbrushes were cheap and made your gums bleed which doesn't sound bad until you realize they moved her because she was doing that stuff while having HIV. She ended up there because she had beat the crap out of her now ex for cheating on her and giving it to her. My second roommate was a temperamental drug addict.

There was a little color this time, most of the staff was nice, they had some cheesy novels we could read, we got cloth scrubs and undergarments (our own or provided), and the rec room even had dominoes, cards, and a tv which we were allowed to watch during certain times. We were told that going to therapy would help us get out sooner, but I stayed longer than most (I'm guessing part insurance and part because my partner of 7 years broke up with me through my dad and had the other woman in our home). I said everything they expected me to say in the very Christian therapy sessions, but I did skip church.

I was despite to get out honestly. Because I couldn't have MSG and was supposed to not have a lot of dairy, I was fed mostly fruit for lunch and super with occasional dry chicken or greens. That much fruit and nothing else gives a stomach ache and sore teeth. Breakfast and the before bed snack (crackers, small cup of popcorn, and such) was my break from it. We had no way to exercise and when I tried to I got in trouble, so it was sitting or laying all day every day. I missed sunlight, music, friends, my pets, a comfortable bed, reading good books, my favorite shows, paint, driving, internet, my phone, driving, and freedom.

They were especially hard on a young person who was gender fluid or two spirit. She (using the pronoun she preferred there) felt like her gender varied from day to day with her normally feeling like something between male and female with a hair towards female. They often corrected her saying she was a man and put her in a room with a man. She said she was use to it and thought of moving to another state because this one will use any excuse it can find to put people who are trans or non binary in a nut house. Seeing as people who are trans* or genders other than cis male or female aren't the most common, but everyone I talked to often has one or two in their wing while admitted (including myself my first time), it seems to be a problem.

When I got out, I told my dad I was an atheist. After years and years of hiding it, the 19 day Christian bombardment made me realize I was tired of pretending. Turns out he is too. Coming out as non Christian honestly helped my depression so at least they accomplished one thing.

Comment 5:

I was in a psych ward and this all makes sense. It was just 24 hours, but it was f*****g awful. The staff is awful, and I get it now.

Still, it's no excuse to treat patients like absolute s**t. I was being sexually propositioned by a patient who wouldn't stop following me around from the moment I walked in. Even after telling him 5 times to leave me alone and telling the staff 3 times that he kept telling me to have his kid (while I was 6 months pregnant), they didn't do anything.

I don't know if it's just the ward I was in, but they're all incredibly racist. I was the only Hispanic person in the ward, so anytime I said anything in Spanish ('tortilla' 'burrito' etc) the staff would pull me aside and ask me if I was gang affiliated. NO.

Also, I ended up having a panic attack while I was there and they gave me Ativan to shut me up. They told me I had 5 mins to calm down or they'd have to give me meds. f*****g assholes.

I managed to talk to the doctor and convince him that I didn't need to be in a psych ward, that all I needed was therapy.

I was wrongly put into the psych ward when I went into the ER after having panic attacks every night for a week. I was waiting for my OB to come back from vacation, the OB taking his place literally told me "It's all in your head, you're fine. Don't be a hypochondriac." Went to the ER, social worker wrote down that I was homicidal and suicidal, when I was neither. With a 20 month old in the house, they flipped out and stuck me in a psych ward.

Comment 6:

I was court ordered into a psychiatric unit by my domineering mother who claimed to a judge that I was suicidal in order to prevent me from moving out of state. Long story short, I was in the unit for about one week before my dad and brother intervened and I was released by a judge. There was nothing wrong with me except a bad relationship with my mother. In the city where I lived it was fairly simple to have someone committed, you just had to say they're suicidal and it's treated as an emergency. There was another guy in there committed by his ex-wife to prevent him from attending custody anyway...

The unit is in Alabama, basically the only one left in this region after they were all closed. This was my experience - in one week!

At my intake interview, they asked me trick questions in order to commit me. It was so obvious that I even said it to them, and they added to my report that I was paranoid. Even the receptionist said that nobody ever leaves after the interview because the hospital gets a check from the government for each patient they admit.

I refused to sign treatment consent when I arrived. This was consent for medication and research. The nurse threatened to isolate me and not give me food. She also said that if I was uncooperative, then I would have to stay much longer. (This is incredibly illegal - I have years of experience in health care regulation.) I signed and decided to just play along and spit out the medicine they gave me.

They withheld the medication I did need to replace the hormones from my thyroid I lost to cancer. I did not get it for the entire time I was there. I was feeling quite ill by the time I left.

My room was infested with cockroaches. I was given only a small bar of soap and tube of toothpaste. There was no light in my bathroom, so I had to shower with the door open which meant that anyone could see inside. It was too stressful so I showered in the pitch dark instead.

One patient (a traumatized cop who was suicidal after a particularly nasty crime scene) hanged himself in the bathroom with a shoestring during breakfast. He had asked for help all morning and a nurse finally told him to go ahead and kill himself because nobody cares. So he tried to do it. He didn't die because another patient came in and found him. The hospital the unit was attached to seemed only to care about hushing the incident up and trying to make him sign s**t. He contacted a lawyer instead. He seemed better and more clear headed the next day, but he had a bandage around his throat.

Another patient had a very serious problem with some sort of full body Tourette’s - I don't really know, some compulsion to move and talk constantly. He was aware of his issues but he really couldn't control it. They hadn't made him shower in weeks and he smelled like feces and nobody had washed his clothes in god knows how long. Instead they made fun of him, called him names but mostly ignored him. I finally convinced one staff person into washing his clothes and forcing him to shower by shaming her about the basic dignity of people in her care.

The physical-ed counselor was clearly a pedophile/pervert. He could barely keep his hands off the younger, lower functioning patients. I watched him give massages and be all around creepy to several young men. He really liked this same young guy that needed a shower and was always putting his hands on him. Even this guy, who could barely control himself was visibly uncomfortable around this guy. I wouldn't have been surprised at all if this pervert was fooling with the kids in the children's unit.

There were other horrible, painfully sad things going on there, but it's too much to share here. Just to remind you, this happened in ONE WEEK. It was a hellhole and it was basically all that passed for a mental health hospital for half the state of Alabama.

Comment 7:

I have personal experience here. Not as a staff member, but as a patient.

There were some nurses and staff you didn't even want to f*****g blink around. They would take any excuse to beat the s**t out of a patient, "so they knew who ran this place". I watched a girl that I was rooming with, drop her tray at lunch and started crying. This nurse came in, accused her of trying to instigate a riot, starts screaming at her, next thing I know security is there dragging her off to a solitary area. When she came back, she was different. Not, I spent time in the hole different, it was, well, someone put a picture of kittens or ducks here, it was barely recognizing the world around her different. I asked what happened, she just looked at me, asked who I was, then sat on the floor staring at the wall, until someone literally dragged her into bed.

I asked someone who had been there longer than me, what the f**k had happened. Apparently, the "troublemakers" are given multiple ECT [electroconvulsive therapy] sessions a day for however many days they are supposed to be in solitary confinement.

Listen, I won't say that ECT can't have its uses. It helps people as a last resort. The way they were using it though, it was more like torture of a group that has no legal way to fight back.

Most people I met in the ward were nice. We all had problems, and as long as we all felt each other out, finding what to and what not to do, getting along wasn't as bad as you'd think with clinically depressed, schizophrenic, bipolar, or whatever. There were some though, Jesus f*****g Christ, you didn't want to get near. There was a guy who was convinced the government was trying to mind control him into assassinating the head of the united nations, and he bit another patients pinky off. You didn't make eye contact with him, and just tried to stay the f**k out of the way.

I have sadly been to the psych ward more often than I care to admit. I will say, that I've been to good and bad ones. The worst ones almost always seem to have the prefix St. before them.

Comment 8:

Heh. Having suffered mental breakdowns and suicidal episodes in the past, I've been a patient in a psych ward myself. Rather than go off on a tangent, I'm just going to say, it is not a place you ever want to find yourself. It is darker than anything you could possibly imagine, and not for the faint of heart.

Reading this article sure brought back memories... pretty damn ugly ones, too. For a moment, suddenly I was sixteen years old again, strapped to a gurney, completely nude, with snot and blood dried and crusted on my face.

Then, my memory shifted to my being pinned by half a dozen people to a concrete floor for fifteen minutes, even though I begged and screamed for mercy, promising I would willingly take the strange pills they wanted me to take. They had no such mercy, though. A blonde haired woman walked in with a needle in hand, which was jabbed into my buttock. Suddenly everyone got off me and fled from the room, which was slammed shut, and I was left alone. For two minutes I sat wondering what the hell just happened to me, when suddenly I felt woozy, and the next thing I knew, I collapsed onto the foam floor mat. I didn't wake up until the next day, and when I did, I found I had been stripped nude and dressed in a hospital gown. I try suppress this memory, lest it eat away at me like acid.

The nurses and security staff in that place... were, indisputably, the coldest human beings I have ever met, and trust me, that's saying a hell of a lot. I would even say they are barely human at all - more like empty husks, soulless shells, emotionless automatons. Their faces never once showed the slightest hint of emotion - not a single trace of humanity. They were like stone. Cold, hard, unfeeling stone. Sometimes I lay awake at night thinking of those horrible creatures, and chills run down my spine...

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