I was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 17. Before that and since then, I have had more psychiatric ward stays than I can count. Each stay is terrifying for its own reason.
The first few are obviously frightening because it was something new and, at this point, you might still not believe anything is wrong with you. You go to the ER. They check you in and get a psych consult from an on-call doctor making rounds to four or five other counties before getting to you. Once that’s over, they either send you home or find a room for you somewhere. The next part of the process was a little different for me the first time I was admitted because I was a minor at the time. Once they find a bed — this may take weeks — you get a room. They run you through their security: no jewelry, shoelaces, underwire bras, shorts with drawstrings and no electronic devices. Once you’re in, you get a nice set of paper scrubs to last you until someone can bring you clothes and hygiene items.
While you’re there, they walk you around and show you everything. They explain all the rules. Yes, padded rooms exist are still a thing. I would know.
Based on my experience, you are taken to your room and shown where you can put your things. Sometimes you have your own room and other times, you do not. They give you a copy of the daily schedule and your doctors’ names. You do one-on-one therapy and see a psychiatrist. The wards also have social workers come in, especially if you are a minor. There is usually at least one phone and multiple opportunities to use it throughout the day. Televisions, books and games are commonly available as well.
OK… so, why am I telling you all this?
Many people refuse to get help because they’re afraid they will get “carted off and locked away forever.” That isn’t how things work. Many of these places keep you no longer than a couple of weeks, depending on circumstances, and some release you in a week or less. State mental institutions are different stories which I can write about later. I know all of this sounds terrifying, but understand these places are there to help you!
I was too afraid to sleep the first time I was in a youth ward. I was experiencing hallucinations… bad ones. The doctor told me to write down any time a voice told me to hurt someone or myself. I told him I cannot write that fast. He helped me come up with ways to deal with it until the medication took effect. I went to lie back down. A couple of hours later, I was hearing things coming from my bathroom and seeing things. I thought someone was hiding in my shower. I quickly got up and walked out the door. I made my way to the nurses’ station. They asked me what was wrong and I told them someone was in my room. The security guard immediately went to check it out while the nurse gave me water and some crackers. They legitimately wanted to help me. I’ve had other incidents as well, in adult wards.
I write all of this to tell you that you don’t need to be afraid to get help. I wish I had someone to walk me through the process when it first happened to me. It is a long process, but usually a helpful one. If you think you or someone you know needs help, do not be afraid of being “locked away.” Most places genuinely want to help you.
Take care of yourselves and each other.
Follow this journey on the author’s blog.