What I Learned From Spending Christmas on a Psychiatric Unit


Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

So for the last six weeks of 2016 — including Christmas day — I was an inpatient in a secure psychiatric unit. Not where I’d planned to be. In November, I was initially sectioned and discharged two weeks later, but was readmitted the same day as an informal patient after a suicide attempt.

Now this is the only experience I have had of being detained on an acute mental health ward, so my experience is very limited. I would describe the ward as a mixed sex, clinical version of a low security prison. Two locked doors separated me from freedom and in the first weeks admission, on both occasions, I was granted no leave.

You may think, as I did, that seeing as they used legal powers to remove my liberty, they would use my time on the unit to explore all manner of treatment options to get me better, or at least in a place where I was not acutely suicidal. But no, I’m afraid to say, treatment only meant medication in this facility.

The reality and dare I say it, my hopes, from being on a psychiatric unit were reduced to knowing I was in a place that had been specifically designed to be “suicide proof.” Curtain rails and hooks were magnetic so with any pressure they would fall. No wires or cables were allowed, so to charge my phone I had to be escorted into a locked room where they were kept. Any sharp objects were kept in personal lockers. Anything that could be made into a ligature was confiscated. And so on…

To have a bath or a shower you would have to request the room be unlocked and nurses would check in periodically. There were three levels of observation. Level one: Once per hour, Level two: Once every 15 minutes, Level three: one to one supervision. This was 24 hours and was particularly annoying when I was trying to sleep and my room light would get switched on every 15 minutes just to check I was there.

Did it help?

Well I’d say for the first two weeks I was completely “offline,” not thinking straight and putting a lot of thought and planning into killing myself. So how did I get discharged, you ask? Well it was very easy for me to passively surrender myself to the system, nodding along with professionals and not making any unprompted disclosures of suicidality. Of course, when I was readmitted the same day, professionals took somewhat of a different stance and no longer took me at face value. After my attempt however, I came back “online,” was thinking logically and although was not pleased, I no longer wanted to end my life. I stayed on the ward for another four weeks, continuing to be void of suicidal thoughts and then was safely discharged home.

What difference did it make?

Being sectioned did stop me from trying to take my life at an earlier date, though due to a negligent discharge, all it did was simply delay it. Christmas is quite a triggering period of time for me, so my second admission kept me in a safe environment when I could have possibly dipped. This gave my friends a little more peace of mind over the festive period.

What have I learned about myself?

I learned a lot about my triggers, not because of any treatment, just because of the situations that arose on the ward. The biggest being control. Nothing better than a secure unit to bring out your issues around being controlled. Sometimes it was the behavior of other patients that were triggering. It all worked towards a greater understanding of myself. I learned I am so blessed to have so many amazing and wonderful friends who travelled across the country, sent support packages, wrote letters, rang for updates and made sure I heard the message “you are so loved.” I do believe I would not have gotten through the ordeal without them. Last but not least, I learned God is not done with me yet, and this is what I need to remember.

This post originally appeared on Trevor’s blog.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

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