mentalpatientcrpdVisiting 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.



Her face was stuck in stone

And her puffy cheeks

Turned gray.


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

Her eyeballs

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

Crisis ward.


And neither of them could say a thing

Or move

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