Life on a psychiatric ward

From gross food to banned bath plugs, 23 year-old Georgia explains the realities of life on a psychiatric ward with bipolar disorder.

True Stories


Georgia says psychiatric wards aren't like how you think.

I held my boyfriend’s hand as a stranger went through my bags. All of my clothes were neatly folded, and I could tell they were trying not to crumple them while checking for sharp objects, pills and anything else I could’ve snuck in. After all, a psychiatric ward is meant to be a safe place.

I headed to a park and took an overdose

I suffer from bipolar disorder, an illness that is characterised by intense episodes of mood disturbance. I can have months where I’m symptom free and feel completely better. ‘Maybe I don’t have it after all!’ I often think hopefully. But when an episode hits, it feels like a tornado has ripped up the root of everything I hold dear.

Imagine a giant monster standing on your head, gradually getting heavier and heavier until bits of your skull start chipping off. Before you know it, he’s knee-deep in the gloop of your brain. Everything hurts and nothing makes sense.

That’s how I was feeling when I headed into the depths of a park and took my first, and hopefully last, overdose. And that’s how I ended up on a psychiatric ward.

The patients seemed vulnerable, rather than dangerous

My life in hospital consisted of crying, painting and most of all, staring at the wall. It was no spa trip but it wasn’t awful, not how you might imagine it to be, all lobotomy scars and strait jackets.

Initially terrified at the prospect of sharing a room, it was surprising when my roommate was welcoming, offering advice, and sweets. Mental illness is often stigmatised due to concerns that patients are intimidating, and dangerous. In my experience, the opposite was true. All of the patients were vulnerable, and scared of the world they were subject to.

I felt like a barnyard animal

My appetite dwindled anyway, but the food in the ward certainly didn’t help. The jacket potato I chose every night was thick and dry, and the cheese clung to the corners of my throat on swallowing. While my boyfriend dutifully visited every day and delivered chocolate biscuits with the hope that I might start smiling again, I was in mourning for my happy self. It felt like that part of me had left forever.

To escape the stuffiness of the ward, I took to going outside when the smokers did to get fresh air. The only time I felt penned in was looking up at the 10ft wooden fences outside. I wondered if this is what it felt like to be a barnyard animal, but with cigarettes and eccentric conversation. Time alone wasn’t much better. Mental health professionals often encourage nice warm baths to relax, but it’s hard to do that in a safe ward as bath plugs are banned in case we drown ourselves. I was given the lid of a milk bottle to keep the water at bay for around three minutes, before shivering into a starched hospital towel.

The real recovery happened after I was discharged

When I finally discharged, it felt like everything was louder, busier and brighter than I had ever remembered it being. I almost longed for the safety of the hospital in the face of the painful world I had tried to leave.

But the part of me that I thought had gone forever did come back after all. It was like the monster apologised and put my head back together. The time I spent inside had kept me safe, but the real recovery happened after my discharge. For the first time, I was completely honest about my illness. Fortunately, I received understanding, and sympathetic responses when I was discharged; some have even shared their struggles with mental illness in return.

While I am vigilant about my mental health, armed with medication, family and friends who were more accepting than I could have imagined, and techniques that I have learned through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), I feel stronger than ever. Mental health recovery is often a work in progress, but one thing that I have taken from my experience is that it doesn’t need to be tackled alone. Sometimes shouldering the monster is just too much for one person.

You can read more about living with bipolar disorder on Georgia’s blog.

Next Steps

  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Georgia

Updated on 29-Sep-2015

Photo posed by model by Shutterstock