Ward newbies: what advice would you give to a patient on a psychiatric ward for the first time?

25 Jan

Welcome to the ward

My stay on a psychiatric ward was a bit of a shocker. No one explained what was happening, why it was happening or what to expect. It seemed there were 1,000 unwritten rules for patients to abide by – or, if they were written down somewhere, they were not communicated to patients. And, as a result, we never knew what was expected or what we’d done wrong.

If only I had had someone to explain how things worked, my stay would have been much more therapeutic. If only staff had communicated with me rather than turning up mob-handed to wordlessly pin me down and inject me with unnamed drugs then disappear. If only staff had taken simple steps like telling me when mealtimes were, rather than waiting for me to spot the trolley being wheeled away from the dining area then saying I was too late to eat. Again. If only I’d been given the ward Welcome Pack on day 1. Rather than day 8.

I know there is great psychiatric inpatient care out there and, even where there isn’t, there are hints and tips that will help inpatients get a more positive experience of their stay on ward.

So, what would your advice be to someone staying on a psychiatric ward for the first time?First day

  • Are you a patient on ward now? What questions do you have? What advice so far has been helpful to you? Perhaps you wonder why your phone charger has been taken. Or why there’s someone watching you and making notes on a clipboard several times an hour. Or how to get hold of tampons and a toothbrush.
  • Have you been an inpatient on a mental health ward before? What would you have liked to know when you first arrived? What tips would you like to have been told? What advice do you have for someone who’s being treated on a psychiatric ward for the first time?
  • Are you a member of staff – a health care assistant, nurse, occupational therapist, cleaner, doctor, advocate? What advice would you give to patients on their first stay on a psychiatric ward that would help them understand the experience and get the most from it?
  • Are you an AMHP or police officer who takes people to psychiatric wards or places of safety? What would you like patients to know?

First day 2As TheSchizoPodcaster (@UKschizophrenic) tweeted last night:

“No one has explained anything yet. […] Do staff watch you all the time when you are sectioned? It is normal for this to happen? I don’t like it at all! Makes me angry!”

Student mental  health nurse Kathryn Finch (@Kat_Finch) tweeted back:

“It’s just to monitor how you are and if there’s improvement or not in how you are. They’re looking after you, try to stay calm. You’ll be on obs for at least the first 24 hours. It all depends on how you’re presenting and the risks they feel are there.”

Hopefully that advice was reassuring and useful. Please let me know – either in the comments below or on Twitter – so we can share the best tips for patients on psychiatric wards for the first time.



web links 5

  • My Storify story of tips received by Twitter so far … hopefully more to add!
  • The Code of Practice to the Mental Health Act – guidance to staff on their powers and duties, which can give patients an idea of what to expect
  • The Nice Guidelines on Service User Experience in Adult Mental Health – this is the experience NHS care providers are supposed to provide
  • The Wardipedia website’s tips on welcoming new patients




5 Responses to “Ward newbies: what advice would you give to a patient on a psychiatric ward for the first time?”

  1. Clinical Psychology and People 25 January 2013 at 7:19 pm #

    Really saddened to hear the above issues unfold today as it simply shouldn’t be happening but I suppose that’s being idealistic. I echo what others have said in terms of knowing your rights, at all times, mainly can I go? if not why not? Ask who is responsible for your care and ask to meet them. Ask someone to explain why they are keeping you in hospital, it may not be the reason you think! Do try to find someone who you can talk to. Ask if you have a ‘named nurse’ who shift by shift is ‘allocated’ to you. These are some of the things I do with YP on our ward. If they think you should stay or have placed you on a section then ask explicitly how they will know that you are ‘better’ or ready to go you’d be amazed how this doesn’t get asked enough. You have a right to know that, at all times.

    • Sectioned 25 January 2013 at 9:10 pm #

      That’s really helpful advice, thanks. Wish I’d had it when I was on ward!

  2. Becca 26 January 2013 at 11:28 am #

    I’m on an EDU at the moment and it does seems there’s this huge list of ever changing rules no-one has told me about.
    I found talking to other patients who were more used to the ward really helpful- just for things like which staff members to approach for what, or what sort of requests should i be putting in to management round.
    Also don’t be afraid to keep on reminding staff when you’re supposed to be meeting with them- i’ve found its so easy to get forgotten about and left in a corner as staff often forget when they’ve agreed to meet with you.

  3. desdemoaner 16 July 2014 at 9:46 pm #

    I’d advise them to get a lawyer or at least some kind of legal advocacy immediately. Make sure you tell the staff that you know your rights, are genned up on the law and won’t hesitate to sue. This is a bit of a bluster but you must protect yourself – the rest of your life is a long time to live with the hellish memories of being in an NHS psychiatric unit – and I should know.

    Inform Mind, Rethink or some other charity or organisation of where you are so that if anything happens to you someone will know about you. Get as many people on your side as possible: get lots of visitors, possibly an advocate, a befriender or a mentor – make sure the staff know that you are not alone. Those who have no visitors sadly are those who are most likely to be ill treated or neglected. I saw this when I worked in a nursing home.

    Keep notes of your time in the psychiatric unit with as much detail as possible – pretend that you’re writing a diary. This can be useful later.

    Finally, what most people realise on their own anyway – pretend you’re okay so that they are less likely to drug you or detain you, so you can get out quickly and get some proper help if you can afford it/find it.


  1. This Week in Mentalists – Duvet Day Edition « The World of Mentalists - 26 January 2013

    […] asks what advice you would give to someone admitted to a psychiatric ward for the first […]

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