Psychiatric wards and social media

18 Jan

Twitter silenced

Yesterday (17 January), there was a fascinating tweet chat about the use of social media on psychiatric inpatient wards, hosted by We Nurses (@WeNurses). Patients, friends, and family, interested people and a wide range of healthcare professionals discussed such topics as the use of social media by psychiatric inpatients and what restrictions, if any, should be placed on patients. It got me thinking about what had happened to me on ward when I was detained. Here’s my personal take on the issue.

When I entered the tweet chat, I recounted an example of being denied access to social media:

Once, when I was in my bedspace on ward, I set up my little camera to record a piece to post to facebook. At that moment, the rapid response team arrived, a crew of 6, to pin me down and inject me. They grabbed my camera and took it away. They said they didn’t want to be filmed restraining & injecting me as some people would use it as porn!!”

It was a shock at the time to have my property confiscated in that way. However, as I learned as time on ward passed, this was representative of the way the ward was managed.

It was only when I tweeted yesterday about this camera incident and then read others’ responses that I realised how bizarre a thing this for staff to have said. And how unjustified it had been to summarily confiscate my camera.

It would be interesting to know if the hospital had a policy around use of social media; or whether it was something they hadn’t thought of at the time and staff were just having to make it up on the hoof. I suspect the latter was the case and that patient access to social media was not considered important.

Patients in yesterdaSocial media graphic 1y’s tweet chat said they found access to social media to be a vital support and a lifeline to keeping in contact with friends and family. Like many of us, they used it in their daily lives before admission, and naturally wanted to continue doing so on ward. In fact, when on ward, keeping contact with the outside world felt more important.

Some healthcare professionals, on the other hand, expressed concern that patients who were vulnerable should not be allowed access to social media in case they breached confidentiality – for instance, by posting about other patients online. It was pointed out that, whilst healthcare professionals had a duty of confidentiality, patients did not. And that a patient should not be have their property confiscated or be deprived of access to social media unless specifically accessed as lacking capacity in that regard.

Quite right too. Just because you are on a psychiatric ward does not mean you suddenly lose all rights to be treated like an adult. Or at least it should not do so. If patients on surgical wards are encouraged to use their iPads and smart phones, why not those on psychiatric wards? As I said during the tweet chat:

It makes me angry that the staff on the ward I was detained thought they ruled the roost & could do whatever they want – eg take our phones. My phone was taken on arrival. I had no way to contact my workplace or friends. I just dropped off the face of the earth. When I got my phone back 4 days later, there were 140 emails – people trying to get in contract with me, wondering where I was.”


Even prisoners locked up by the police get a phone call home don’t they? Or is that only in TV cop shows? It certainly didn’t apply to me when I was detained on ward. Removing my phone deprived me of my means of communication and isolated me from the outside world in a place which was already shut away from the world.

On ward, there was a big practical problem with accessing social media, or even the outside world. As I tweeted:
“The only communication with the outside world was a payphone. There wasn’t even a computer on the ward where, let alone access to social media. On another ward, there was a computer. But it wasn’t connected to the internet. And a dongle wouldn’t work (couldn’t work out why). If all you have on ward is a payphone, & you have no money, the only number you can call is 999! And they won’t come out.”
The isolating restrictions lead to patients becoming inventive to find ways round them. As I tweeted:
“Luckily, once I got in contact with friends, I was able to smuggle in 2 other phones – then staff were just confiscating a spare one. I smuggled in a laptop, charger & dongle & used it behind the door so nurses couldn’t see. It was them & us environment.”

I also tweeted:

“My phone was used as a reward: if I was a “good patient”, I got my phone; if I was a “bad patient, it was taken away. No notice. No receipt. Being treated like naughty children was par for the course where I was detained. Staff were our rulers, not our carers.”
Rather than facilitating access to support through social media, confiscating property was one way some ward staff used to control behaviour. Unfortunately for patients, all the rules were unwritten and never explained to us, so it seemed arbitrary and unpredictable. The best policy was to keep you head down and try not to draw attention to yourself. A week into my detention, I was advised by my solicitor: “comply, cooperate and engage”. Prostrating yourself to staff, he explained, was the only way out and would make the time go easier.
It seems to me that the overall approach to social media on the ward where I was detained could be summarised in the following tweet:

In my experience, everything was done to control & silence patients. The answer to any question was always “no”. The cautious approach prevailed. Patients were not put first.”


To find out about the broader discussion, I’d highly recommend reading the web links below.


web links 5.

Here are web links to pages that form the background to the discussion:



3 Responses to “Psychiatric wards and social media”

  1. helen Wilkinson 20 January 2013 at 11:48 pm #

    I have tweeted you as well but you may like to know the NHS sells the sensitive medical records of those detained under the Mental Health Act see the NHS web site here. It is part of Cameron’s campaign to make records about to life sceince companies and the pharmaceutical industry. I am @helliewm on twitter and I ama Privacy Campaigner and former NHS Manager specialising in medical confidentiality.

  2. isla 16 October 2018 at 1:55 am #

    After my partner of 11 years and father to our child was sectioned, he lashed out on social media to all the people who were closest to him. He unfriended his family and myself and made 1000 more “friends” on social media during his time in hospital. He posted accusations that had long lasting ramifications. Towards me mostly.
    He also tweeted professional contacts within his line of work asking for help which has left him, a year later, feeling ashamed and stupid. This has had a direct effect on his recovery. He feels so ashamed about shouting out to the world at the time, letting all sorts of people see in through the window of a very personal and fragile journey, that he now keeps his head down low. He was once a celebrated member of our community, but through his use of social media in hospital he feels tarnished. And so do I.


  1. Confiscating patient phones on psychiatric wards | Sectioned - 4 June 2013

    […] An earlier blog post – Psychiatric wards and social media […]

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