Dr Ben Gray writes from his ward on how he's found comfort following schizophrenic episodes.
I have just spent a month in a psychiatric ward. In fact, as I write this, I’m still here. It’s my third relapse in 10 years, and the first time it lasted for nearly a year. Being in hospital is a painful experience, but it’s also a personal journey, and for me it was forming friendships on the ward that pulled me through (and continues to do so).
"Through taking part in group activities like creative writing or music therapy I became closer to people."
I’m diagnosed with schizophrenia. When I hear voices they are very negative and frightening, often saying things in a demonic hiss like “I’m an abuser” or “I’m coming. You wait until you see what I’m going to do to you!”
Being on the ward is often isolating and frightening, with people shouting at their voices and sometimes being restrained by staff. It would be better in my opinion if there was more therapeutic contact between us and the staff and more time for one-to-one supportive conversations to aid recovery.
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The good thing about being in hospital is that I started taking my medication again, which I had stopped for some days (although I am quite against antipsychotic drugs because of painful, often humiliating and debilitating side effects, such as tiredness, weight gain, tremors, restlessness or the inability to sit still and muscle stiffness). But the main reason I started to feel better was as a result of friendships on the ward.
Befriending other people, getting their support, praying for others, and engaging in group activities, all aided in my recovery. By taking part in group activities like creative writing or music therapy, I became closer to people (not as a diagnosis of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or depression but as human beings with complex problems, emotions, and difficult past histories). We talked about our personal experiences, emotions, and difficulties and supported each other’s gradual progress and journey toward recovery. Importantly, I realized we were all in it together—I wasn’t alone.
I especially connected with a 70-year-old woman, Becky, who needed the care of nurses, me, and other people on the ward to make her drinks and just to hold her hand to comfort her distress. She has schizophrenia and dementia and is unable to look after herself. Recently, I took her with me to the chaplaincy group, where she said a little about herself and her two sons, which was the first group she had attended. This helped us both a lot, and we have become good friends.
Friendships—showing a little bit of love and caring for each other—make the time on the ward easier and more rewarding. It can be tough and not everyone likes going into hospital, but I think the important thing to remember is that we can all support each other. It may seem like a little thing, but having a good relationship with another human being makes all the difference.