Six Discoveries Made on a Psychiatric Unit

On The Mighty today, there’s an interesting article on little discoveries made at a psych ward. I seriously thought I had invented playing card games as a life saver, but apparently I haven’t. Having spent eight years on one psychiatric unit or another, I can add a few more discoveries to this list.

1. The smoking area is the coziest spot on the ward. I don’t sit in the smoking area nowadays anymore, because I don’t want to associate with my fellow patients that much. On the acute unit though, I spent hours in there as a non-smoker just because it was the best place to have good conversation with patients.

2. Not just picky eaters like me despise the food. We had relatively good food when I was first admitted in 2007, but as budget cuts took over, the quality of the food declined sharply. Now we’re lucky if we have noodles, because they are pretty much the only food that isn’t too bland to be real. If someone with a specil diet or who is a vegetarian is admitted to our unit in the middle of the week, too bad. Food is delivered in bulk quantities, so no-one gets to choose what they want to eat anymore. If you’re a vegetarian or have a special diet, you can only hope that the staff will remember to order your food specifically. By the way, the vegetarian food is the worst of all kinds.

3. “Therapy” means you’re stuck with an adult coloring book. “Work” means going to the industrial arts department. I still don’t understand how people can call day activities their “job”.

4. On most wards, you can’t access the kitchen cupboards with food in them or even get a drink outside of meal times. I am fortunate to always have spent time on wards where you could get food or drink freely, except for coffee, but an increasing number of units are locking patients out of the kitchen or its cupboards. The reason is patients often make a mess. I remember a long time ago this locking of kitchen cupboards being discussed at the intensive care acute unit (not a unit I ever resided at). One nurse rightfully said that the patients on this unit have hardly anything they can control, so why should the times they eat be controlled too? Unfortunately, he didn’t get his way and the cupboards were locked.

5. People manage to argue over the remote even though everyone has a TV in their room and there are three TVs in the day rooms. Seriously, a fund founded by one patient’s parents provides TVs for everyone in their rooms, and still oftentimes the same soap opera is on on each of the three shared TVs.

6. Every doctor has their favorite prescription medication. I am still surprised the psychiatrist at the resocialization unit didn’t prescribe Ritalin to me, because he prescribed it to practically everyone. Benzodiazepines, of course, ar handed out like candy, except to me, because I told the psychiatrist I have a family history of benzodiazepine addiction and personal experience of its withdrawal. I am 100% confident that most of the other patients on benzos are effectively addicted, but apparently they’re too unwell to ever get off their pills anyway. Did you know that “severe psychiatric illness which requires high doses of benzodiazepines” (ie. chemical restraint) is one of only a few grounds to get the drugs covered by insurance. The other three are epilepsy, anxiety disorders when a person has tried at least two antidepressants unsuccessfully, and last but not least, palliative sedation in end-of-life care.

7 thoughts on “Six Discoveries Made on a Psychiatric Unit

  1. I enjoyed the tv comment. I’ve visited different places and seen the same thing! And yep, residents are arguing over the tv when they have their own! Thanks for the post.


  2. Wow. I am going to spend a bit of time reading your blog. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but it sure sounds like you are being warehoused as if you deserve nothing better or if you are incapable of getting better. I’m just flabbergasted at what “therapy” and “work” is, and at the lack of free choice in the foods they serve you.

    You deserve better. ❤ Nearly everyone in your situation does…

    I think I am going to learn a lot from you.


    1. Well I’ve gotten used to it. I am an informal admission and will hopefully be leaving in a few months, but there are indeed people who reside here essentially for life. It’s sad how institutionalization still makes these people dependent. It’s not like the staff do everything for us, but they make us do our chores in a very controlling kind of way. They say they’re encouraging independence, but they only encourage it on their own terms. On one of my first days on my current unit, I had a huge argument with a staff member who was saying I was very capable of putting jelly on my bread (I have fine motor issues that affect my hands and am blind, the combination of which makes this very hard) and if I wasn’t, I shouldn’t want to live with my husband. Well, I admit that being able to put jelly on my bread is a basic task of indepenndence, but it is not a mental illness, which is what prevents me from living with my husband. We will find solutions to all these practical difficulties, but the staff encourage independence in this area over independent thought.


  3. Very interesting article. I was also lucky to not stay in a ward where the food was locked, but still. I do recognise a lot of your article, especially the part of “therapy”. Luckily I am now at a recovery center where the therapy part is taken very seriously.


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