Recently, we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us their experiences being admitted to psychiatric hospitals and what they wish people knew, as well as what TV and movies get wrong. We got so many incredible responses — thank you for sharing your stories!
Global Citizen / YouTube / Via youtube.com
The biggest thing we noticed in responses is that no two people had the same experience. Our healthcare system is riddled with issues, and depending on the healthcare and the hospital, people had vastly different stays.
Some people had amazing experiences, while others suffered abuse. However, fear of a bad experience should never stop you from seeking help — many responses, even negative, emphasized that there are people who want to help you and that things are getting so much better.
Tips included calling patient advocates if you feel something isn't right, asking questions about your care, having a strong advocate for you on the outside, and having good mental healthcare coverage in the first place (though we realize this isn't possible for everyone). Touring first isn't a bad idea either, if you have the option! Here are some great tips for negotiating your medical bill and trying to get prices reduced.
We didn't include some of the more graphic depictions of abuse, but you can read some on the original post. We want to stress that these experiences are valid and traumatizing, and thank you again for sharing.
That being said, let's dive into some of these responses! Many of them include topics of self-harm and suicide, so please read at your own risk.
1."A hospital can take anyone with any condition from depression, anxiety, and social anxiety to personality disorders, eating disorders, OCD, and PTSD. It’s not an indication of criminality or violence or insanity."
2."At 16, I was in a teenage psych ward for a week. There were lots of other teenagers there, including a football player, a cheerleader, a student body president of a high school, and more people you would never imagine being in a psych ward. You really never know what someone is struggling with."
3."Mental hospitals are not 'magical places' where quirky characters who 'tell it like it is' go on whimsical journeys to show us that 'the crazy people are actually the sane ones' or something like that. The romanticization of mental illness is a huge problem."
"In reality, mental hospitals are often really grim and unglamorous places, and not because of 'villainous' staff, but because of the much scarier reality that this is the place where people go when they simply cannot cope anymore or are utterly hopeless."
4."I feel like a common misconception is that everyone there is being held against their will. I voluntarily had myself admitted while struggling with suicidal thoughts and urges."
"Although it was a locked ward, as long as your doctor didn’t think you were a flight risk, most patients had permission to go out on walks with the occupational therapist and visit the coffee shop in the hospital. They even let me go home on weekends when I felt safe to."
5."That having to go to a psychiatric hospital or being in one is scary or a last resort. I wish I had gone sooner. I was very ill and waited until it was almost too late to agree to go."
"I know for sure I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't gone. I wish the stigma around being in a mental hospital was gone so that I could share this experience more often in a positive way."
6."One thing they get wrong is that everyone in there is screaming or acting wild. It’s a really chill environment. It’s a lot of group therapy, coloring, and snacks."
"One thing they get right is the grippy socks. You do get those, and they are hella comfy."
7."Pro tip: Find out what you are allowed to bring and have beforehand, and get doctor approval for special things: your blankets and pillows from home. Bring your own toiletries!!! Lotion, lip balm, and conditioner are luxuries. Women, bring sports bras or you will have to go braless. And bring a good book. You will be chilling most of the time."
8."I’ve been admitted to the psych ward twice for suicide attempts and lived in a residential facility for a bit too. The one word I would use to sum up my experience in these places is 'boring.'"
"People like to think that these places are scary and intense, but it’s really the opposite. You have to stick to a strict routine and follow certain procedures, which makes every day very predictable. My days mostly consisted of meals, activities/classes, meeting with my care team, and some free time. I never encountered anyone even remotely dangerous or violent."
9."I’ve been in and out of hospitals since I was 13 for anorexia and depression, and in my experience, it’s a lot of HGTV and Disney/family movies because they didn’t want to trigger anyone with trauma. I’ve seen The Sandlot and Finding Nemo so many times because we watched them over and over whenever someone new came to the unit."
"To this day (I’m 26 now), I still watch Finding Nemo when I’m really struggling, just because it makes me feel safe and I can turn my mind off for a while."
10."My biggest surprise was how much they fed us. It was so much, and it was actually really good."
"The other patients were nice as well. There’s not individual therapy, though; you meet with a psychiatrist for a small amount of time, and then there are some groups. We also had to get up at 6 every day to have our vitals checked, but other than that, we pretty much were left alone."
11."I wish people knew mental hospitals weren’t all gloom and doom. I worked in a behavioral health hospital for years and laughed till I cried with patients and staff on almost every shift. Needing mental health help does NOT necessarily mean you lose your sense of humor."
12."Fifty percent of your recovery comes from the support of the other patients."
"You become really close to one another after listening to everyone's resilient life stories."
"You’ll end up being good friends with a 57-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl because you grow close to those who are in there for a long time with you, regardless of background."
13."That sometimes it can be really hard to leave. I spent over a year on the same ward. The people there became my friends; the routine was my routine. Being discharged is really difficult. Looking back, it was simultaneously one of the best and worst parts of my life so far."
14."That everyone has to wear a straitjacket. This is not true; you can wear comfortable clothes like sweats, and they provide you with hospital socks."
15."I’ve worked in a state psychiatric hospital. The thing that’s ALWAYS portrayed wrong is how restraints are used. To be in four-point restraints, you have to meet specific criteria AND have staff with you constantly. In TV, people are in restraints for no reason and are left there. Does. Not. Happen. (At least not anymore.)"
16."What I'm most upset about in the media is the portrayal of electroconvulsive therapy, which used to be known as electroshock. You are not awake for these procedures. They put you under anesthesia and induce seizures. You wake up in recovery and have no memory of it; you are just very tired and a little scattered. People still think that you are shocked through the head while you were awake. It’s ridiculous."
"I had ECT while I was there, and it was just like getting anesthesia and falling asleep while they gave my brain a shock. When I woke up, they asked me some questions to test my memory. It's very humane."
"ECT is NOT a punishment for patients who break the rules. It is a mode of treatment, just like medication."
17."No one is cured when they leave a mental hospital. You're there a short term, as short as possible — usually less than a week — and you leave pretty much as sick as when you arrived. They discharge you as soon as they think you won't hurt yourself or others, meaning a lot of people leave still actively suicidal; they just don't have an imminent and specific plan to hurt themselves (or don't tell staff, anyway). A hospital stay isn't meant to cure you but to stabilize you so that you can step down to another kind of care."
18."I have had many hospital stays, and I worked in a residential eating disorder center. Note to filmmakers: STOP ROMANTICIZING HOSPITAL RELATIONSHIPS!"
"First off, it hardly happens because hospitals don’t tolerate any type of romantic relationship between patients and will separate you if they have that suspicion. There are plenty of policies in place to avoid relationships. Second, people are at the hospital to focus on their own recovery, and it does not help to be portraying it as the place where you will have a wonderful love story!!"
19."My psych ward was under constant surveillance because it housed both men and women together. Absolutely NO physical contact with one another, which is the most glaring difference between real life and how movies portray it. We weren't even able to give a supportive hug or pat on the back."
20."Inpatient stays can have 'villainous' staff, but they're not evil in the ways movies portray. Most of the time they're fine as people, but the systems and procedures that they follow are not set up for the best well-being of the patients."
"For example, they can put you on medications, and if you question what they're for or resist wanting to take them immediately, you can be marked as 'uncooperative' or 'disruptive' and then have negative consequences. It's hard to know what you're getting yourself into, and even harder to advocate for yourself in a place that treats anything aside from total obedience as rebellion."
21."Some of the other psych patients will denigrate you for not being 'crazy' enough to be in the ward. Most of them were very respectful, but some of them wanted to feel as though their problems had more merit than your own, for some reason. It is not a competition!"
22."There is still the stereotypical high school cafeteria pecking order in psych wards, with people with the 'glamorous' disorders sitting apart from the people with the less pretty manifestations of mental illness."
23."I've been at the Girl, Interrupted hospital, McLean. Definitely not as depicted — not a random mix of people with wildly different diagnoses. People are treated and housed based on their specific illness; there is a specific unit/building for eating disorders, substance use disorders, suicidal ideation and depression, etc."
"No mental illness is the same, and you can't treat a person with borderline personality disorder the same way you treat a person with OCD!"
24."There is zero privacy. They watch you and monitor you 24/7, with 15-minute check-ins around the clock (yes, even when sleeping, which is why they often prescribe sleeping pills to help you deal with the noise/interruption)."
"Meds were a huge topic of conversation and frequently compared and discussed despite being an off-limits topic."
25."It’s hard work. My key worker (nurse responsible for my care) often had a session with me when she came to do her night shift. So it was literally like spending a whole day doing groups and therapy, and then she’d want to talk at night as well. You never got any time ‘off’ getting better."
26."I’m not quite sure what any misconceptions are, but I want to share that GETTING TO the psych ward can be extremely traumatizing."
"I went to the ER pre-vaccines and had to be separated from my fiancé, stripped of my belongings and clothes, patted down by security, and placed in a tiny room with a hospital bed for over 12 hours. I have PTSD from that night, and it definitely deterred me from going to the ER again for mental health reasons."
"When you are admitted, you have to strip completely, and they document any self-harm marks, bruises, scratches, etc. This part was a little traumatic because you feel so so vulnerable."
27."I was in a psychiatric ICU after a suicide attempt. The first thing I noticed was how much effort they put into making it so you can’t kill yourself: no doorknobs, sink knobs, outlets, etc."
"Doors all had windows or the top cut off so they could see you. No pens or pencils allowed except for little, stubby pencils. Chairs weighed 80 pounds so you couldn’t throw them. Strings were cut out of hoodies and pants."
28."Everything is bolted down — the beds, the desks, the chairs. Also, if you’re a suicide or self-harm risk, there is a very strong chance you will not be allowed to use the bathroom or shower unsupervised."
29."There is that old adage: People who try to kill themselves don’t want to die; they just want the pain to stop. At the hospital, I learned that some people really do want to die. It’s a lesson I’ll never forget."
30."I was in a psychiatric hospital for attempted suicide one month before I turned 18. There were a surprising number of children younger than 10 in the hospital with me."
"I made friends with a 7-year-old girl who told me she wanted to kill herself because that’s what her mom did. There was a 6-year-old boy who had swallowed his mother’s sleeping pills to 'sleep forever' so he wouldn’t have to deal with abuse from his dad. There aren’t many TV shows or movies that show young children with suicidal ideation."
31.And finally: "In my experience, the level of care directly correlates to how much funding the facility gets."
"I live in a not-so-wealthy area in New England but a short drive away from one of the richest communities. I have a friend who was admitted to a psych hospital in my town who was given the bare minimum of care, and she actually lied about not feeling suicidal anymore just so she could leave…but when my own therapist was having his office fumigated, he had me meet him at his secondary office in the psych hospital in the wealthier neighborhood, and it seriously was like a country club. Huge gardens, bright and cheery buildings, friendly staff, and beautifully maintained facilities, right down to the bathrooms having scented (unlit) candles. It’s simultaneously obvious but incredible to see what a difference money makes."
Note: Some submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis support in the US and UK from the Crisis Text Line.