A Broken Psych Ward System

I’ve held off touching this topic bc it’s one I get very emotional about, however as I’ve gotten contacted by more & more individuals suffering, & have heard their personal stories of psych ward experiences, this has been brewing & I now need to let it out. Recent stories have upset me greatly & served as my tipping point.


To get ECT treatments (which I was told was my “last option”) I had to stay inpatient on a psych ward for 6 wks. While awful, it wouldn’t be fair/responsible to go based on my own experience alone, so let me share the consistencies in stories I’ve heard from others who’ve shared w me. Each hospital is unique (& apologies to those who work at ones that don’t act or treat patients this way…would love to hear how you’ve structured things differently), but hearing these stories enough times, you begin to believe this is the “norm” at the majority of them. Below are just some of the lowlights (lots of details left out).


When you’re admitted to the ER of a psych ward, you’re often greeted by a security guard, not a MH professional, who explains you must put your personal belongings in a bag. From there you are given a small room, or a bed, & in most all accounts I’ve heard, the psych ER is packed like Grand Central Station. Too many ppl suffering, barely enough space.


Often you’re kept in the ER until a “bed becomes available” in the actual ward. Though you or your fam may have heard recommendations as to which ward to ask to be admitted to, you’re often at the mercy of what unit or partner facility has a bed that opens up – forcing you to go somewhere you preferred not to, at a time when you don’t have the energy to fight the placement.


Many hospitals have different opinions on benzodiazepine meds (anti-anxiety meds that are often important in calming nerves that are through the roof as you’re about to be admitted). Some hospitals believe in Xanax only, some in Klonopin only, regardless, I’ve experienced & heard many horror stories of being changed, no taper/cold turkey, from one you’ve been on to one they prefer. Imagine how enjoyable that change/withdrawal period is, despite being already at your lowest. Potentially yrs on one drug, only to be changed overnight.


Most psych wards appear to focus on meds almost exclusively. To be fair I’ve heard of some w group therapy & activity schedules, but have not heard of a single one yet, that offers 7/8 different types of therapies. It’s usually one or two professionals who lead a session a day on CBT or DBT.


Most don’t have a gym, or allow you to go to one, & from the majority I’ve heard, most have a only a small window of abt 45 min each day where you can go outside to get some fresh air or do some activities.


Here’s the math that boggles my mind the most: the avg stay bc of insurance is 8 days. The most common treatment is: introducing, changing, or tweaking dosage to an anti-depressant drug, yet the researchers at these same hospitals tell us it takes up to 4-6 weeks to know if an antidepressant drug is working. Is that not the definition of a broken system? Is it no wonder we lose too many ppl after they are released too soon? Is it no wonder the return rate after being discharged is so high?


This system is broken & isn’t working. We need changes to insurance policies, changes to treatment protocols, changes to therapies offered, changes to staff-to-patient ratios. And believe me – I left out a LOT of the nitty gritty details of the day-to-day experience that’s flat out uncomfortable & scary. It’s important we shed light on this so we can rally to make the changes needed to get ppl who need the most help, the right help!! More to come on this topic, it’s just a lot to discuss all at once.

1 thought on “A Broken Psych Ward System”

  1. I was locked down for 6 days. Only 1 day was I allowed into a 20′ x 25′ room with caged open windows. Once a day meeting with psychiatist and social worker. Group therapy was a joke; breathing exercises, calming music or talking which was never subjective. Communal area 3 old, dirty, uncomfortable pastic sofas with 2 chairs to match. Book shelf of old books and drawing books. TV room had same kind of sitting, which always had 1 person dominating the channel. Bedroom was a solid block attached to the floor with a 2″ piece of foam, no pillow. The only thing they gave you alot of was food. Except for the food, I have to imagine this is what prison would be like.
    I lie at by monthly psychiatrist meeting to avoiding going back. So much for our mental health system. It does sound like one flew overthe cuckoo’s nest.

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