The psychiatric ward taught me it can be OK to laugh about mental illness

Surrounded by bizarre characters and nonsensical routines, humour became my shield against the stigma and isolation of life as a mental health patient1975-ONE-FLEW-OVER-THE-CU-009
 Will Sampson as Chief Bromden in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975). ‘Since One
Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all psychiatric wards must be issued a giant Native American as standard.’ Photograph: Allstar/United Artist

Ten years ago I spent time in a residential psychiatric ward. Not to visit a friend, or as research, but because I was mentally ill and a danger to myself.

Two things become clear when I read my diary from that period. One is that I was an utter state, and the other is that everyday life on the ward was ridiculous, with a cast of characters to match any sitcom. The diary names a lot of them: the Sleeping Chief, the Knitting Lady, Kid Zombie and “Norman Wisdom”. In the next bed along from mine – and I promise I’m not making this up – was a 6ft 6in Native American man, probably because since One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, all psychiatric wards must be issued a giant Native American as standard. Sadly I never saw him throw a concrete water fountain through a window, though I’m sure the shockwaves from his constant, rumbling flatulence must have caused some structural damage to the building.  more

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