What's it ACTUALLY like in a Psych Ward.

in life •  2 years ago

I have never seen a psych ward depicted accurately in fiction.

I have the experience to say so, because a few years ago, after a suicide attempt, I signed myself into a psych ward. About a year later, when I realized my thinking had become similarly irrational, I did the same. Both visits helped--and were nothing like in fiction.

The treatment plan from my second visit.

But what do you picture it was like?

Locked doors, drooling madmen in hospital gowns, distant screams from forced ECT, and restraints, needles, and inhumanity?

How about quiet hallways, TVs, books, where people wander around in their own clothing, sit at tables and talk to each other or staff, and occasionally hang in their rooms to relax?

In fact, if this sounds like your standard hospital floor, except that every patient is literally insane... you'd be correct.

Disclaimer: Every nuthouse is different.

The two times I "visited" were significantly different--by my second visit, they had rearranged the floors and had become significantly stricter. Even while I stayed the second time, they starting enforcing a line for meals, for the quite understandable reason that the meal guy does not want to be mobbed by a literal crazed mob.

The ward I stayed was a temporary stabilization facility, not a long-term residential unit. My first visit was slightly over a week, the second a few days shorter. The longest I'd ever seen while inside was a man who was there for four weeks, a schizophrenic who heard demons and was undergoing ECT. (I can remember his haunted face to this day.)

Similarly, there were actually two wards, adjacent but locked off from each other. The second, officially called Rapid, but which I personally called the Double Crazy Ward, were for patients too unstable or, well, insane, for the "normal" to tolerate. I actually saw the inside a few times as I passed through--it was very quiet, being that if you're staying, you're also probably doped up on tranquilizers.

But what all was there?


"This place is great! It's like County [Jail], except the people are nicer and you get to keep your clothes." -- One lady's review.

“We know not whether laws be right / Or whether laws be wrong / All we know who lie in gaol / Is that the walls are strong / And each day is like a year / A year whose days are long.” --Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The psych ward is a place to get well, not a vacation. While we were well stocked with soft-cover books, TVs, exercise equipment, puzzles, boardgames, sometimes snacks, and coloring pages. BEFORE IT WAS COOL!

Don't knock it 'till you've tried it.

But anything that isn't there, and that you didn't or weren't allowed to bring... nope.

There is no Internet. (The horror.) There is also no cellphones. (THE HORROR.) The ways to call outside are limited. (The... OK, that wasn't that bad.)

But this had a very good benefit: sanity. You'd be amazed at how much stress teh internetz adds to one's life. I'm amazed at how negative people get on the Internet (including, admittedly, myself) It's terrible for one's mental health.

For those whose home life was filled with stress, it was even better to be separated from it. Unfortunately, this didn't stop it from spilling back in, to everyone's misery.

Visits were allowed, but only at a few times a week. Otherwise, people just talked on the phone a lot. Other than that... you wait. And wait. For, hopefully...


To avoid everyone becoming totally bored, and also, y'know, to teach basic coping skills, most weekdays were filled with activities--called groups. Attendance was not technically mandatory, but there's literally nothing else to do, and they shut off the phones. The times I had no group to attend (some were specifically for drug addicts), I had to cope with doing little for a whole hour.

What were these activities? Yoga, board games, counseling, art, and just plain coping skills teaching. Usually the therapist began by asking each attendee how they are feeling, then a simple related question ("What is one time you felt like you messed up, and wanted to go back?") and so on. Then the activity, which tried to include everyone, then more or less the same thing at the end. Then, each person got a daily paper signed to show they really attended. (See below for why.)

I couldn't find the one where we put "Jenga" as the activity :(

I'll give an example of how much this meant. I enjoy board games. I've played High Frontier, I understand Magic Realm, I've even read Magic's enormous complete rulebook for fun. (Yes, I'm a Melvin). LCR is a game I would not have bothered to sneeze on, being both trivial and completely without choice. Once, that was the game we played in games class... and despite myself, it was one of the most fun times I've ever had playing a game.

I painted this there! I don't know what it is (a crucifixition scene?), but I painted it. And it's outsider art, so it's probably worth like TWO MILLION DOLLARS. Or SBD.

If this all sounds like some adult form of Sunday School... you're basically right.


[In line for medicine] "This conversation is so wrong." -- Me
"Look where you are!" gestures "You're in the nuthouse!" -- A friend.

Medicine was technically optional.

No, I'm serious. You could refuse to take medicine if you want, or get your blood pressure taken, or speak to your doctor, or do just about anything. I never saw anyone have a pill forced down their throat, but they did reserve the right to use tranquilizers and restraints.

But people there really did want to get better, and the ways to do so was to take your medicine. Further, if you took a pill, they made you open your mouth to show you really did swallow it.

After all, there was a second reason to cooperate...


Did you think you could escape just by being a lunatic? Nope.

Each day one filled out at least two short questionnaires. Both contained the usual questions to ask, such as "Are you hearing or seeing things other people are not?" or "Are you in pain?" or "Are you planning to hurt yourself or others?". The first, in the morning, was supposed to establish your day's goal, while the second said whether you thought you accomplished it. Theoretically, these were to correspond with your treatment goals (see the top image).

And those treatment goals were your key to getting out. You do not get out when you somehow convince your doctor you are sane (this bugged me in one short story I read.) No, you get out after following your treatment plan, which included, mainly, getting your paperwork done.

This wasn't a bad thing, mind you! This forced everyone to actually show they were attending groups, taking their medicine, at least giving an effort to improve.

Drama! (of two kinds!)

"There's nothing to do in here but gossip and eat!" -- Another lady's review.

"You have to ask, are you sure you want your kids to come here. This is a locked psychiatric facility. Anything could happen. A patient could flip out, staff could flip out..." -- A no-nonsense nursing tech.

There are incredibly sad stories there. I'm not repeating them, first because you wouldn't believe how effed up life can get, and second because people deserve their privacy. People were not reticent in sharing their sorrows with anyone who would listen--patient and staff alike. (The latter were available to talk literally 24/7, since the nurses' station was always manned. If you had a bad nightmare, I'm sure they'd talk to you.)

But then there were the other complaints:

  1. There was an insufficient supply of chocolate milk. (People began hoarding it)
  2. On the floor below, the residents of another psychiatric system were not only allowed outside, but could smoke.

You would not believe the amount of angst this kind of thing caused. Perhaps there is a certain human need for drama, which seeks the nearest offensive thing. Or maybe, when all the edges are sawed off and people have nothing to do, then even trivialities get to you.

I am not immune. There were things that slowly got to me, such as the inaccurate schedules, or when people complained about not following treatment goals that didn't exist yet. D:<


Inevitably, there's the people who are a little too crazy, but perhaps not crazy enough for the Double Crazy Ward. You know how in a group there's always THAT GUY? The guy who needs only a demonstrative followed by a noun to be identified? Now realize he's now officially crazy, in a locked facility with you. And there's no way out.


Not everyone's bad--and really, it's better not to consider someone "bad" simply because they are intolerable.

You do meet people in there, and there's little need to break the ice, since everyone's been there, wherever "there" happens to be. The staff always encourages it--after all, the point is to get healthy, and friendships are a great way to do that.

But that said, I don't know if it'd be healthy to continue said friendships outside, and theoretically you're not supposed to mention outside that you knew someone. I personally didn't meet up after leaving. (If any of the Cool Kids Club are reading this--I'm sorry I didn't follow up after I left.)


There's way too much little things to describe which add to the experience. The number of nurses, nursing techs, and doctors who you end up talking to. The little injokes, the personalities, even the variety of disorders. The number of things they did or didn't do, because someone had flipped out with pencils, or the bedroom drawers. (Yes.)

What about you?

"I hope my new roommate isn't a psycho." -- A lady.

If you've been considering suicide, or considering something else that would lead to you to consider hospitalization, don't think of it as scary. It probably won't be what you expect--and probably for the better. I can't guarantee that it will be pleasant (though it could be fun), but it's certainly better than suicide.

And for many, it was not only a life-saver, but a life-changer. They walk in with a ruined life, and walk out, not necessarily with a fixed one, but with hope.

Authors get paid when people like you upvote their post.
If you enjoyed what you read here, create your account today and start earning FREE STEEM!
Sort Order:  

Really entertaining read, but I have a question.

Do you feel you can talk openly about your experience with people in real life? There is a big stigma, at least in the US, against people who have spent time hospitalized for mental health. Have people treated you different once they found out? Very curious to hear what the reaction was from people in your life!

EDIT: Followed! Really enjoying your writing style :)


I haven't told many people. Part of this is because I don't tell them I have Bipolar II in the first place (see my other article about that). Once I do, though, it's not too much of a leap to say I've spent some time in the psych ward.

Part of the problem is that there's just too much misinformation about it, which is part of the reason I wrote this article.

Really informative post. I think it's one of the most undervalued posts on Steemit I've ever seen.

Looking forward to future posts!


Thanks. Looks like I just missed the bots--this post has almost as many views as votes.

I absolutely love this post! I had a similar experience I'll share. I don't know your age, but I was a minor when I spent four days in a psych ward so my experience was probably a little crazier. First, there was nothing wrong with me other than I had shit for a home life. My mom was very mentally ill and convinced herself that I, at twelve years old, was the sick one. She took me in and told them I had a fascination with knives, threatened to kill her and myself and that I needed serious help. She was blatantly lying, but of course nobody wanted to believe the kid and I was lying and in denial as far as they were concerned. So they admitted me and roomed me with a seventeen year old who was four times my size and there for anger issues. I was terrified to go to sleep at night. During the day, everyone was generally quiet, but there was a girl who would spring up out of no where and bite the person closest to her. There was also a girl who would leave her door open, stand in front of the mirror naked and call herself a stupid whore. I remember the meals being good, but I was a fat ass and felt hungry all the time. I was allowed to have magazines as long as I threw the staples away, so that was nice. Sometimes they would take us to the gym to play basketball. After my one on ones with the doctor everyday, it became evident that I was there for no good reason and they sent me home - which, like you said, just ended with me being back in my shitty home environment. It was nice being away for four days. I was on edge, always preparing myself to have to fight some nut off, but I still enjoyed being away. What I did not appreciate was being forced to wake up at 6 every morning!!! I'm so glad you're not suicidal anymore and hope that you are doing well. Depression is an awful thing that I've suffered with since I was six years old. It's awful.


I was an adult during my two trips--I had my 21st birthday in the psych ward. :( (We had a real party when I got back.)

Sounds like they didn't have an equivalent of the Double Crazy Ward there. People did actually flip out from time to time, but they usually ended up in Rapid shortly thereafter. Mind you, when someone is screaming and punching one of the lockers, you'd rather be somewhere else immediately.

As for depression, I still have Bipolar II, but I cope with it far, far better. Thanks for your concern. I hope you're doing well, yourself!


What was crazy to me was that on our floor all you had to do was walk through some double doors and you were in the adult section of the hospital. We were all so close to one another. Also, since I'm not 100% familiar with how all this works, I'm assuming when you say "Rapid" you mean a padded room? That's where everyone went when they had to be tranquilized. One girl, the one who called herself a stupid whore, snuck out of her room late at night, crawled on all fours to a boy's room so the nurses couldn't see her, and got in bed with one boy in particular and asked him to "fuck" her while taking her shirt off. Needless to say, she got tranquilized quite a bit, especially when that poor boy started screaming!

I've got pretty bad depression and have since I was six. My mom has bi polar disorder and like you she's not perfect now, but she is much better. She is thinking rationally. Which I can't say is true for the past. The next thing I'm going to say may or may not work for you, but I want to mention it in case it could bring you more relief. I'm not sure what state you're in or if it's legal, but my mom replaced her medication with marijuana and it has saved her life. She used to take upwards of 20 pills a day. She was hateful, slept through most of my childhood and could not think clearly. She recognized that all those pills were only causing harm and she completely stopped taking them. She was sick for a few weeks, but started smoking and has been so much healthier ever since. I'll stop talking your ear off now.


Rapid was an actual full-on ward, just much smaller, and nearly everyone therein was tranquilized. I didn't see any padded room, but they (staff) said that they used restraints in extreme cases.

Medical marijuana is not legal in my state. After seeing what damage drugs do to lives, I would be very dubious about trying it myself. (Most of what damage I saw was in the psych ward, for that matter). My pills do seem to be working, although I do have to change medications every now and then.


I personally agree with you on the marijuana thing. Despite it helping my mom and helping a lot of other people, I will never, ever smoke it. I've watched it ruin so many lives and I don't want to be one of those people. I'm opening myself up to a lot of criticism here, but I don't care what people say - I think marijuana IS addicting. I have family members who go insane when they run out of it. They can't function. I think if a doctor prescribes it and you follow the proper dosage it can help, but for recreational use, it's a no from me. I'm so glad your pills are working for now. 😀