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When You're the Youngest Patient in an Adult Psychiatric Ward

I was 18 years old the first time I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. I was the youngest patient.

Before I was admitted, the idea of being in an adult psychiatric ward scared me a lot. In my mind, I had these images of what life was like on these wards: old people who were scary. I imagined the staff being cold and harsh. I guess you could say I had in my mind the stereotypical and media portrayal of “mental hospitals.”

It wasn’t until I got there that I realized just how wrong I had been.

I was taken to a hospital in the town over from where I lived by a member of the crisis team. From the moment I got out of the car, I felt sick. I had this overwhelming urge to run, my mind screaming all sorts of thoughts such as, “You’re not ill enough to be here.” The man from the crisis team who had driven me walked me up to the ward, left me with one of the nurses who I was told was on my eyesight observations (a level of observation that requires patients to be within eyesight of a staff member at all times, including when you’re asleep/using the bathroom) and disappeared into the nurse’s station to do a handover. That was the last I saw of him.

It took me a while to adjust to life on the ward initially. I was stuck in a corridor that was air locked with none of my own possessions because of my risk. I attempted to escape the ward, only to immediately have a doctor inform me that I was sectioned under Section 5(2) of the Mental Health Act and was legally detained on the ward. My days revolved around meal and medication times and the staff peeping through the shutters on my door every 15 minutes, as I was on intermittent observations. It was awful.

However, after a couple of days, I began speaking to the staff and some of the other patients. I discovered that most of the staff genuinely did care about us. I found they were willing to sit and hold me as I cried, to clean up blood and give me a massive hug when I’d had an incident, to sit and play board games, and to escort me outside so I could have a breath of fresh air. The staff were nothing like I expected them to be.

I found a similar situation with the patients. Once I came out of my shell a little bit and started going to the communal dining room at meal times and sitting in the lounge, I found that most of the patients were friendly. They were willing to sit and talk to me about nothing in particular. I formed friendships with patients 40 years older than me, and I sat and laughed with them until my belly hurt. In fact, it was through my adult psychiatric hospital stays that I met two of my current best friends.

There is so much stigma around patients on psychiatric units. They’re often viewed as “crazy,” “dangerous” and “scary.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, there are often incidents, alarms being pulled and people being restrained. Yes, you see people in states that really do break your heart. But that’s because nobody goes into a psychiatric hospital for the fun of it. These people are ones who I spent all of my days with. These are the women who became like mother figures to me, looking out for me, protecting me and comforting me when the weight of the world felt too heavy. These people became friends — even family.

It is daunting being admitted to an adult psychiatric unit at the age of 18 and being the youngest patient on the ward. But you would honestly be amazed at how kind, caring and compassionate the majority of the other patients are. There’s no denying that it’s scary to begin with, but when you accept that you’re all there for the same reason — you’re all facing some form of mental illness –the fear subsides and before you know it, the other patients become like a part of your family.

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