Inside a Youth Psychiatric Ward
A First-Hand Experience from a Mentally Ill Teen
First of all, there is little to joke about when it comes to the topic of psych wards, but as many mentally ill people can attest to, humour is sometimes all you have.
At 16-years-old, my life mainly consisted of severe anxiety, panic attacks, self-harm, binge drinking, disordered eating, and depression, alongside an abusive relationship to top it all off. In early April of that year, I had been on my first of many medications for nearly three weeks, and had the worst breakdown of my life. I landed myself in the emergency room after an unsuccessful suicide attempt that night.
Some unforgettable memories came along the way as they found a place for me. A night spent in the ER really only allowed an hour or two of sleep max before I heard bouts of screaming and fights on the other side of the curtain. Then, I was led away from that newly familiar place to somewhere even newer.
The EAU—basically a holding cell for anyone with issues in the noggin—was where I first felt a sense of panic. With only a few solid white rooms, I was met with people of all kinds—a young girl who kept me up during my first night as she tried strangling herself with a shoelace and begging the nurses to let her die, a middle-aged woman whose drug withdrawal symptoms included banging on the locked doors and yelling for someone to attend to her foot with a sliver that she claimed would infect her blood and kill her, and another girl my age who enjoyed barging into the bathroom—which unfortunately had no lock attached—without any warning.
I spent two days in my tiny room with only a mattress and a book of sudoku puzzles. I was visited by a counselor who was kind enough to assure me that I would get to leave soon. Sure enough, a few hours later I was taken to the basement where there was a long hallway and a door that only opened from the other side.
The final "new" place was where I would spend the next week of my life. It was a huge space with several rooms for all kinds of therapy, hallways in different directions with individual bedrooms and a general common area. I took the 12th and final bed and set myself up for the days to come.
You'd be surprised at how occupied you're expected to be inside the youth ward. Personal evaluations, individual therapy, group therapy, music therapy, "school," etc. Although what I found the most interesting was the people around me (aside from the professionals who outnumbered us by several times). The other 11 kids who followed the same schedule still stick out in my mind. I had never met so many people like me who could so easily talk about their darkest thoughts but that was just the normal dynamic.
There was a girl who exclusively talked about her girlfriend who had left her, an older boy who explained in detail how crystal meth feels, and a girl who said nothing yet screamed in the room next to me every single night. We even celebrated another girl's 18th birthday by cheersing with juice boxes as she was sent to the adult ward, crying hysterically.
Despite the obvious instability of the teenagers in the ward, the way the "professionals" treated everyone still boggles my mind to this day, years later. I like to remind people now of how not to treat people like us because of this.
From the beginning, I was faced with strangers who mocked me or brushed me off when I explained why I didn't want to live anymore. I'm still convinced that they will refuse to take a kid seriously until they're already dead. Otherwise, they're just taking up space.
Also, when I first came to the ward I got my first rude awakening—literally. That morning started with a Nurse kicking the side of my bed and yelling at me to get up. Later on, my visiting time was hanging in the balance and depended on whether or not I would agree to eat my meals. The place was harsh. Harsh enough to never forget.
Visiting time was what got me through the drawn-out stay. I was allowed to see my family for 30 minutes if I was on my best behaviour. Meaning that I could only exchange pleasantries with the other patients and attend every therapy session without complaints. Strangely enough, days filled with expectations, strangers and rarely showering was what gave me that chance to leave—considering how I thought that being admitted voluntarily didn't mean I could leave voluntarily. Having my life in the hands of doctors who watched me every day wasn't exactly ideal.
While leaving the ward was followed with years of continuous recovery, I still use my story as a "cautionary tale." Trust me, take the help you can get now. I hope something good for you can come from me doing stupid things first so you don't have to. I wouldn't recommend. -10/10. Stay safe.