Visiting a loved one in a psych ward for the first time can be a very traumatizing experience, especially when you’re not prepared for what you are going to encounter. Movies like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Girl, Interrupted” tried to manifest the realities of the environment of a psych ward but, in real life, nothing comes close to the actual experience one will have the first time they enter the locked doors of a unit.
Here are some things to consider before you enter a psych ward for the very first time:
Your Frame of Mind - It’s not what you think, and whatever you think it is going to be like, it’s not. If you’ve never been in an acute inpatient psych ward before, prepare for the possibility to go through shock. It can be overwhelming and scary so try and remember to take deep breaths and focus on something positive.
Seclusion Rooms – There are seclusion rooms in a ward where at any moment you’ll hear banging on the walls that can ricochet throughout the ward. You might hear screaming or uncomfortable noises coming from a seclusion room. This is normal, so just take a deep breath, and try and relax.
Wandering Patients – Often times there are overmedicated disheveled patients roaming the halls with piercing stares and possibly unwelcome statements that may be spoken directly to you. Do your best to ignore unsolicited comments, and know that you are in an environment with sick individuals that are in the process of being stabilized. So, don’t take anything personally.
Sense of Smell – There may be a rancid stench in the air. Some patients refuse to shower, and it is their right so, if they are there for an extended period of time a stench will penetrate the halls. The combination of what you see, and what you smell, can be overwhelming so do your best to remain calm and keep yourself together.
Below is a poem I wrote when I witnessed a mother visiting her son for the first time in a ward at a Los Angeles County hospital.
POEM: THIS WAS HER SON, SHE WAS HIS MOTHER
Her face was stuck in stone
And her puffy cheeks
Her son stood there motionless
Staring straight ahead
His right arm out to the side
Like a diving board.
His mom was still stone
Her eyes were blood shot
As the tears seemed to rake
But never seemed
To stream down her face.
Maybe if she blinked
Her tears would get a break
And pour out of her eyes
But they were still
In a state of utter fear
And unknowing pain.
This was her son.
He was catatonic
And she visited him
For the first time
In a psychiatric
And neither of them could say a thing
Or touch each other.
Not that they didn’t want to
But they were in such a state of mental pain
Standing there inside the ward that
That was all they could do
Just stand there
And stare straight ahead
With a deep face of nothingness.
This was his mother. He was her son.
Mental patient photo available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 27 Mar 2013