Psychiatric Hospital: A Quick Glimpse Inside the Madness of an Institution

I normally try not to post on Friday through Sunday, so today will be a light post and a short break from our discussion on the Pervasive Developmental Disorders and will continue on Monday with Rett’s Disorder. Today however I’d like to share some of my past work experiences.

For three years I worked overnight in a mental hospital. It was three years I’ll never forget. After spending years in undergrad and grad school learning about all the diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), it was great to actually get a chance to experience some of those disorders first hand.

Working overnight in a mental health hospital definitely gave me a lot of insight into mental illness and people who are often oppressed by the system that is set up to help them. It is also where I honed my assessment and diagnostic skills as a clinician, being able to work along side other seasoned clinicians, psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists.

The mental health hospital can be a life saver for some (if you have the right insurance/money) or just a revolving door of endless misery and disheartening for those less fortunate, which are usually the ones who need the services the most. With the right resources you get all the help (counseling, medication, case management, etc.) you need, otherwise you just get stabilized and sent back out the door (usually to return again and again without the proper treatment).

Still, for what it is worth, there is nothing like working in a mental health hospital, especially overnight when the clients are usually the most eccentric and usually outnumber the staff 3 to 1. You can go from consoling a woman suffering from post-partum depression one moment, to restraining a highly psychotic person the next, over and over again.

One night in particular I saw a young doctoral candidate who was contemplating suicide due to depression, social anxiety and paranoid thoughts that his peers thought he wasn’t good enough for them. Then I saw a woman who caught her husband in bed with her brother, went out drinking and then decided to try to slash her own throat.

All I could do at 3am in the confines of the mental health hospital was offer those troubled individuals some hope and guidance so that maybe they’d see light at the end of what they perceived to be a dark, endless tunnel of anxiety, depression and despair. So for them, and the other clients, at least for that night, the mental health hospital was a safe place for them to let down their guards, share their fears and lose their minds without judgment or recrimination.

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