Throughout my years of writing about living with mental illness, I’ve often been asked by people who are seeking help what being in a mental hospital is like. Either it’s people who are having trouble themselves or family members that want to know they’re doing the best thing for their loved ones. The question has come up pretty often.
Mental hospitals, in and of themselves, are meant to be places where the world can’t interfere with recovery. They are, although sterile, meant to be as comfortable as possible for people while keeping certain precautions in mind. There are bars on the windows, there are plastic mattresses and pillows, and there is one bottle of medical grade soap in the showers. Meals are provided daily, and the coffee pot is pretty much always hot. That said, there’s not much else. There is a phone booth, and there are private rooms to meet with the doctors and with family, and you may or may not have a roommate, depending on how populated the hospital is.
There is a common room, where you eat with your fellow crazies, and there is the TV room, where there is usually a comfortable couch or chair or two.
The image most people have of mental hospitals is something they probably got from the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or any number of other stigma-riddled productions where the people are mumbling to themselves, catatonic, and going crazy. Granted, there is some strange behavior in mental hospitals sometimes, but the best way to look at it is as a reprieve from everyday life, a self-contained unit of recovery where you can take all the time you need in order to get better.
The days are pretty structured with activities going from morning to night; there are art classes, there are coping technique classes, there are meals, there are therapy sessions, and there are music classes. It’s really no different from a nursing home.
All this granted, it can be extremely disconcerting to have to go to a mental hospital simply because you don’t want to believe that you’re crazy. As you go in, you are completely overwhelmed with the notion that you’re a nutjob and that your life will never be the same. You are confounded by the fact that your character is so flawed that you have no choice but to go to a nuthouse (although it has nothing to do with your character). Simply dealing with all of this stuff at once can make mental hospitals horrific. The implications of a mental hospital and it’s supposed reputation proceeds it pretty violently, even though the reality of it isn’t so bad.
I’ve been in a mental hospital, and I imagine many of the people reading this have, too. At some point along your recovery you realize that it’s probably the best option, considering. If you have to go it’s perfectly ok. It doesn’t make you any less of a person. Some of the world’s greatest minds have seen the inside of a mental hospital and generally it’s best just to be thankful that we live in the twenty first century and these are places of peace as opposed to the state asylums of the fifties and sixties.