The psychiatric ward in Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
The psychiatric ward in Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

What it's really like staying in a psychiatric hospital

By Gerry Cupido Time of article published Aug 26, 2019

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When you hear the words “mental health clinic” or “psychiatric hospital”, most of us think “madhouse”.

This is what movies used to (and some still do) call these institutions - showing images of patients being gagged and electrocuted or looking like emotionless zombies; evil doctors experimenting on their patients with drugs and restrained in straitjackets.

After a major depressive episode my psychiatrist suggested I be admitted to a mental hospital.

Even though I willingly agreed, all I could think about were those scary images I saw in the movies.

Needless to say, I was freaking out.

I didn’t want to be one of those people. I didn't want to think I was a crazy person in a madhouse. 

I certainly didn't want to be electrocuted nor wear a straitjacket.

But I knew I needed help. In the same way that a person who had suffered a heart attack and needed special cardiac care, I needed special psychiatric care. 

So there I was, anxiously sitting in the reception area of the ward I was admitted to, waiting to be tended to. 

The first thing I noticed was that the place was very quiet. Where were the crazy people? Are they all locked up? 

A friendly nurse appeared and led me to a small consulting room where I was to wait for a doctor. Still. Not a crazy person in sight.

The doctor did a basic physical examination and asked questions regarding my health and family mental and physical health history. 

Basic physical examination. Picture: Pexels

Up until that I still hadn’t experienced anything remotely strange. 

After the examinations, I was shown around the ward and where I would be sleeping. 

This is when I finally got to meet the rest of the patients. No one was shouting. No one was walking around like a zombie. Everyone was pretty much “normal”.

By day two I already knew how my days would be spent. 

We had strict rules and a tight schedule which generally worked around meals and therapy classes. These classes included life skills and relaxation techniques. Most days we even had “homework” to do. 

We had to hand in our cellphones and got them back for a few hours in the evening. That was pretty much the only torture I endured.

During the day you're not allowed to wear PJ's nor do you have access to your room which you share with other women.  

Everyday you would have a chance to see your therapist. 

Even when I did receive ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) - it was nothing like the movies. I wasn’t electrocuted. I was sedated and woke up in my bed. 

I met the most incredible people. We could speak freely knowing that the person next to you is there for the same reason, to get better regardless of our individual conditions. 

If you ever find yourself in a position where you have to be admitted to a mental hospital do not let movies like “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” scare you. 

PS: I’ve been to many psychiatric clinics and I’m yet to see a single zombie or straitjacket. 

** Every psychiatric institution has different wards catering for patients with different types of illnesses. I was in a ward for patients who were mostly dealing with mood disorders. 

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