Things no one tells you about mental hospitals

Going into hospital can be a scary time. Whether you’re sectioned or informal, you still have to face being in a new environment away from family and friends.

I haven’t been in hospital for 6 months and I’ve only ever been in adult units so I’m just going off what I can remember. Things may have changed in the last 6 months and I can only go off personal experience. I’d love to hear other people’s views whether you’re a staff member or have been a patient in a mental hospital.

  1. It’s not as scary as you think. The staff are generally nice and most of them want to care for you and the patients are just normal people going through a difficult time. Some people have behaviour issues which they try to pass off as their mental health but you can tell the difference between someone being rude because they’re ill and someone being rude just for the sake of it. Things sometimes kick off but other times it’d quiet and dull.
  2. The majority of people in there are aged 40-65. I don’t know if this was just my personal experience but from the 5 times I’ve been in hospital this has been the typical age of people. The first 2 times I was in hospital there was a girl who was 18 (and turned 19 whilst I was there) but other than her, I was the youngest, being 21. You do make friends with people though, so don’t let the age put you off.
  3. Most of the time the other patients are more useful than the staff. Please don’t think this is a dig at staff members because a lot of them do want to help. Sometimes just talking to someone with the same condition as you really can really help you. I remember one time I was talking to another girl who has bipolar and she was telling me how much she misses her manic episodes – something I can completely relate to. The patients typically want to help you because they know what you’re going through.
  4. There will be people with all sort of conditions in there. I have only ever been on female adult acute wards so this could be different in another type of ward. Some people will be up, some will be down, some will be pacing and other will just lie in their rooms. Everyone is coping with their illnesses differently. It’s also important to note that not everyone has insight into their illness or believe that they should be in hospital. Everyone is different so try to be considerate of this.
  5. Medication is given at specific times. I’m not sure if this goes for every hospital but in the ones I’ve been in, sleeping tablets can’t be given after midnight. If you normally take your tablets at 1am you’ll need to try and adjust to the medication round times. Change isn’t always easy at the best of times, especially when you’re ill, so just be warned that you can’t have your medication whenever you want. You also have to wait until you’re called so even though medication rounds start about 8am, you could be waiting until half past 9 for yours.
  6. Cigarettes are like gold. I was lucky because the trust I’m under hasn’t brought in the no smoking policy yet (or they have within the last 6 months and I just don’t know about it). But if you smoke then everyone will be asking for your cigarettes. Not everyone has the money to go to the shop or get staff members to get them and other people have to keep theirs in the office and are only allowed them at certain times. Try not to feel pressured into giving your cigarettes away, even if you have become friends with someone. It’s very easy to have people take advantage of you.
  7. It’s really boring. Most of the time, there is nothing to do. This varies from hospital to hospital but there are typically no groups like you see in films and the art room isn’t anything special. I’ve been in 2 different hospitals and in my local one, the activity worker is part time and has favourites so she only ever does activities with them. Typical activities include bingo once a week and colouring (or painting your face bright blue as I have done). In the other hospital I was in the activity worker worked Monday – Friday full time and he told me that as long as it was feasible, I could do any creative thing I wanted. Sometimes you get lucky and end up in a hospital where there’s lots of activities, but for the most part, hospital stays are boring and the days drag out.
  8. The food is repetitive. If I ever have to look at a jacket potato again I might scream. The meals were often the same 3 things that just got rotated. In hospital I ate a lot of sandwiches, jacket potatoes and curries. You can request certain things but most of the time, your request won’t be honoured. There is a vegetarian option but not always a gluten or dairy free option so if you require this, definitely make sure you speak up about it. Depending on where you go, you won’t always be able to have a knife at meal times, and sometimes you’ll get plastic cutlery. In my last admission, I had to cut everything with a fork and spread butter with a spoon. It gets a bit frustrating but you just have to learn to live with it.
  9. It’s very easy to hurt yourself in hospital. I don’t want to give anyone ideas so I’m not going to suggest anything, but it isn’t impossible to either take things in or have other people bring things in that you could hurt yourself with. When I’m ill, I get very creative with the ways I can hurt myself. I’m not condoning that you do this, because it doesn’t help, but I’m just warning you. A lot of people still self harm in hospital so just because you’re in a ‘safe’ environment, don’t think that you won’t see it.
  10. There’s a lot of things you aren’t allowed in hospital. Again, this varies depending on where you go but I find that depending on which member of staff you talk to, depends on what you’re allowed to take in with you. The obvious things you aren’t allowed are things like razors and lighters. If you are allowed to smoke, staff will (usually) have lighters or there’ll be a lighter on the wall. I’ve never been allowed to keep hold of my phone chargers, no matter how short they are. Some admissions I’ve been allowed my makeup, others I haven’t. Same goes for toiletries. Surprisingly, I’ve been allowed to keep my dressing gown belt in every admission. I don’t really understand their reasoning with some things.

So that’s it. My list of 10 things that no one tells you before you go into a mental hospital. If you have any different experiences or anything else to add to the list, I’d love to hear them.

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