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How COVID-19 Has Impacted My Life as a Psychiatric Hospital Patient

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Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

I have a singular, pretty unique perspective on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the very first case in the U.K., I’ve constantly been in both general hospitals and psychiatric hospitals. All from the time when news briefings were telling us that the virus was nothing to be worried about, to a year later, now, when I am quarantined in a room after testing positive for the coronavirus and the nation is in complete lockdown.

Angry sparks of rage fly through me as, scrolling through Instagram, I see post after post of friends mixing with each other despite the strict lockdown rules. I sigh and the thought of thousands crosses my mind: “What will it take for them to listen?” The lockdown rules have been forced upon me, on top of the restrictive practices that I am already contained by as a psychiatric inpatient. I am 19, hours away from home, and there is no way I can see my family. And that is just something that I have to deal with, and I’m not the only one. Yet at the same time, there are people having parties, inviting friends over, going on walks and not following guidelines, spreading the virus in ways they don’t even realize. The issue is the naivety of the people. It seems we are not used being in a battle that is between a virus and humanity. Instead we feel obliged to turn a medical issue into a political one, causing unnecessary conflict.

Being unable to do anything to help is painful, but I will use what I do still have to incite change — my voice. Listen carefully to my words. Put yourself in the shoes of the people I talk about. Think about them as family members, your sister, your aunt. Remember your position with respect to my own and take on board your role in helping the world fight this pandemic.

Within hospitals, infection control teams have the issue of restricting patient-staff interaction enough to keep the virus at bay, but also to allow them close enough that they can be effectively treated. So, on the psych ward, it started with staff having to wear surgical masks. Then scrubs, too. Then full personal protective equipment (PPE). This change threw patients massively. Staff were difficult to understand with masks on, it’s hard to recognize them, and their clinical appearance triggered a lot of traumatic memories for some. Whilst the virus was merely present, no visits to the hospital were allowed. And when it peaked, patients were stopped from even going on walks in the grounds. Essentially, we were stuck in the ward and there was nothing we could do to get out.

One would think that this containment would prevent us from becoming ill with the virus; we aren’t going out, no one is visiting, so we should be safe right? At present, 17 permanent staff members are off with COVID-19, and over half of the patients on the ward have tested positive and are in isolation in their rooms. So we did everything we were told, yet no amount of PPE or washing hands could protect us from the microorganisms staff brought from the world outside. We are all stuck alone in our 4-by-6 meter hospital bedrooms, where anything that keeps us remotely busy has been confiscated due to being contraband. It’s pretty crap. Mentally, this has a massive strain on us. Our eating is impacted by not having a table to eat at, our self-harm and suicidal thoughts intensify due to being alone, and trauma triggers of being trapped are at an all-time high. If we were isolating at home, we would still have someone to talk to, someone to hug, outside air to breathe and comfort food right in front of us. Right now, though, we are left to it, feeling really quite ill and just wanting to be with people we love.

Whilst I am highlighting the massive struggles that we face as patients, I’d like to stop for a minute and talk about staff. They’re recognized, right? “Clap for carers” every Thursday, donations made to wards, hampers and gifts brought to nursing teams and donated premade meals… Yes, the people are grateful, they know we would be on our knees without the NHS, but they only ever focus on the care we get from general nurses in the physical health care setting. When one thinks of health care workers being run off their feet, caring for patients as they overflow due to lack of beds, images come to mind of a busy emergency department, or a crowded ICU. But what about the psychiatric hospitals? They do exist, and they do struggle just as much as the general hospitals do, but news coverage doesn’t want people to remember that.

In psychiatric units, staff are putting their lives at risk caring for mentally unwell patients. Patients’ difficulties range across a huge spectrum, and some behaviors create a breeding ground for virus transmission. Spitting, biting, vomiting, urinating and defecating on staff are all things dealt with every day. And what do they do? They clean themselves up and go to work the next day for it all to happen again. COVID-positive patients flood many of the wards that have become intoxicated with the virus, and staff are forced to work despite inadequate PPE. If a patient is engaging in dangerous behavior, staff choose to intervene immediately which leaves no time for donning of PPE. They are literally restraining a COVID patient protected by nothing but a mask. And they don’t make a huge deal out of it. They don’t moan and complain. They don’t go to their mate’s place for a drink to wind down. They don’t stop going to work because it’s not fair. The only thing they do is ensure the safety of their patients, and the protection of their families, which sometimes means not living at home for a while.

Image via contributor

Originally published: February 5, 2021
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