I wouldn’t start from here if I were you!!
Many years ago a friend of mine ended up in Bristol, lost, looking for the way to London (so you can guess how lost he was). The man who kindly stopped to offer him directions, on finding out his intended destination, responded: “I wouldn’t start from here if I were you!”
I recalled this story recently, on leaving hospital (I spent a few months on a psychiatric ward). It made me think about whether hospital is the right place to start from when working towards your recovery.
I don’t want to pretend that hospital is completely black and white, that it’s all good or all bad. There are positives and negatives to being admitted and I definitely found this:
Positive: Staff intervention
When staff intervention worked it could have a real impact on my recovery. Knowing that I was believed, that people cared and that they were seeking out the best course of action to provide me with long-term support, meant so much. Without the support of the hospital staff such as my ward psychiatrist, psychologist and the ward manager, I probably wouldn’t be about to meat my Community Mental Health Team Care manager. Having someone unbiased to talk to, well whose only bias was seeing me recover, really helped such a great deal too. An outsider’s input can help to put a lot of things into perspective.
Negative: Staff intervention
When staff intervention didn’t work it could really bring me down. Staff with a taste for the power they had, or those who were just having a bad day, probably didn’t realise how much damage they were doing with their negative attitudes/comments, but could undo a lot of the good work being done by the good staff. If, like me, you have had a lot of negativity in your life, the last place you need that to continue in, is hospital. Perhaps staff need to recognise how much their bad days can impact those who are in a vulnerable position. We’re all human, definitely not perfect, but for those who choose career roles that can have such an impact on the lives of vulnerable people, they need to think twice about whether that choice is a sustainable one.
Positive: Other patients
Sometimes there could be a great deal of support and camaraderie on the ward from other patients, a few of whom even become friends. It’s especially tempting to start leaning on other patients when your friends on the outside stop visiting and you want to feel less alone with this mental anguish. Speaking to others who have similar worries and experiences can really put your mind at rest and definitely make you feel less alone.
Negative: Other patients
When it didn’t work out with other patients, when you leant on someone else too much and they ended up harming themselves or distressing you with rejection, this could really provide a challenge to remaining focused on your recovery. Also when there was conflict on the ward, even a small conflict, it left a negative atmosphere for everyone and caused us all to feel uncomfortable.
Positive: Putting help in place
I was lucky that the ward I was in not only had an excellent psychologist but also had senior staff who were focused on making sure that you wouldn’t have to come back again. This meant that they generally really fought for me to get the outside help that I needed, which definitely proved to be an uphill struggle. They never gave up on me though.
Negative: Becoming institutionalised
By the time I left hospital, after the few months that I spent on the ward, I was beginning to see less of a life on the outside, less of a reason to fight and more of a need to stay, as I wondered if I would ever truly be ready to deal with everything life had to throw at me. Thankfully a few members of staff gave me a kick in the right direction, and I decided to brave it, but it hasn’t been an easy choice to make.
Positive: Keeping you safe
Hospital staff can’t watch every patient non-stop but they can ensure that if you are feeling at risk you have a far greater chance of remaining safe than you probably would be on the outside. This opportunity to remain safe increases the more you are honest and cooperative with those who are trying to take care of you.
Negative: Isolation from people on the outside
After a week or so of being in hospital, people, intentionally or not, start to drift away from you. They give up inviting you out because they know that you are on the ward and they stop calling because they are disturbed by what they hear when they do. It’s painful but going through something like this really shows you who you can really rely on. If you have a friend in hospital, cards, phone calls, visits mean so much. Knowing that they have people to come out to, who haven’t given up on you while you’ve given up on yourself, means so much. If one of your friends has been in hospital and you realise that you haven’t been there for them as much as you perhaps could have been, it’s never too late to start!
Positive: Less risk factors
With the focus on keeping you safe you become used to things like having your privacy invaded with, for example, bag searches, for your own protection. You still have a part to play in keeping yourself safe but it helps a lot to know that you are not the only one working towards this.
Negative: Lack of home comforts
You risk damage/loss to any valued possessions if you bring them with you so often you have to learn to do without. Added to this is the dodgy food and having to share toilets/bathrooms with people who may have quite poor levels of hygiene. There are times you will long to be at home, for the peace and quiet especially, but the grass is usually greener.
Negative: Getting used to the silence afterwards
Being in hospital can be one of the most challenging periods of your life but the biggest challenge is surviving life after hospital. The silence will eat at you and the lack of people to talk to/confide in, especially if you’ve lost contact with people on the outside. Being out can lead to extreme isolation and you will have to fight hard to beat that.
So as you can see, hospital can work but there are factors to bear in mind and, in my opinion, it should always be the last option for someone and you should go into it with the expectation that keeping you safe is the most important aspect to being hospitalised. This can come at a price though so choose carefully!!