In almost every state in the country, the supply of inpatient psychiatric care is insufficient to meet the demand. In a 2006 survey, 34 state mental health authorities reported a shortage of beds for acute psychiatric care. The shortages mean that patients who enter an emergency room with an acute psychiatric crisis may wait days or weeks for a bed, inmates who qualify for psychiatric care may wait in jail for several months before a bed becomes available, and patients who are admitted to a psychiatric hospital are often released too soon, in order to make room for other patients. In a 2014 survey, 19 state mental health directors said the judicial system had found them in contempt, or threatened to, for failure to admit jailed inmates to psychiatric hospitals in a timely manner
Today, there are fewer than 40,000 beds in state psychiatric hospitals in the U.S., down from a peak of more than 550,000 in 1955. Despite the shortages, the number of beds continues to decline—down 13 percent since 2010. As a result, thousands of persons with serious mental illness are living on the streets, or in jail, or with families who are ill-equipped to cope with the acute symptoms of mental illness. Why have the states not acted to address the issue? Why are we not providing adequate facilities for these desperately ill people? more
You know the feeling when you walk through a doorway and you’ve forgotten why you’re there? That’s how it felt to walk through the hospital door and enter the psychiatric ward for the first time. A little bit surreal.
The first time I entered those doors was 14 years ago—I was just 16 and hiding under a very thin white blanket while seated in a wheelchair. My parents escorted through the doors. Now, you may be wondering why I was under a blanket. In the frame of mind I was in, it was hard to tell, but I’ve since learned that I was exhibiting the symptom of paranoia that many people with bipolar disorder experience. I was frightened out of my mind, and rightfully so. Only a few nights earlier I had heard demons chanting the name of my savior in my head: “Jesus Christ! Jesus Christ!” more
Surrounded by bizarre characters and nonsensical routines, humour became my shield against the stigma and isolation of life as a mental health patient
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