Mental hospitals are often used as a basis for horror films, where awful, illegal medical treatments are played out and people are trapped in straight-jackets.
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They are portrayed this way so regularly in films that it’s easy to convince the audience that this is really what happens behind the doors of a mental health unit.
But this is simply not the case.
One girl hoping to break the stigma that psychiatric units face is 20-year-old Naomi, an Irish girl who, back in June 2015, was admitted to a mental health hospital for six weeks.
Naomi was admitted by her psychiatrist, who she was seeing regularly for what at first was diagnosed as Cyclothymia – a mental state characterised by marked swings of mood between depression and elation.
On the day of her admission, Naomi was having a severe manic episode and her psychiatrist thought she was a danger to herself.
She was hallucinating, hearing voices and had no awareness of what was happening around her.
Before this particular episode, Naomi had faced similar issues before.
She was also spending a lot of money on ‘unnecessary things’ and was drinking a lot to ‘self medicate’. She describes herself as having ‘no concept of reality’ at the time.
Despite not wanting to go to the hospital, Naomi’s psychiatrist advised her not to put up an argument, telling her that otherwise the process would be more difficult.
‘It was the day before I was due to sit my last A Level exam,’ Naomi told Metro.co.uk.
‘Stressful enough as it is – not to mention the fact on top of the stress over my studies I was also suffering from a horrendous bowel disease, mood swings so extreme that they were ruining my life and hearing voices in my head on a daily basis.
‘That day was my tipping point.
‘Then came the words I’d been dreading hearing: “I’m sorry, but we’ve been left with no choice – we are going to have to admit you to a mental health unit.”
‘I was a danger to myself.’
The next couple of hours for Naomi were a blur – all she remembers is pulling up at the ‘unfamiliar’ hospital and becoming overcome with emotion.
‘I was crying uncontrollably and I had feelings that I was crazy, she says.
I braced myself for entering what I thought would be an asylum for crazy people – straight-jackets, screaming, padded walls and violence. After all, that is how mental health hospitals are portrayed.’
But after walking in to the unit, Naomi discovered the reality was very different.
‘There were patients playing Monopoly, watching the soaps on TV and chatting over a cup of tea,’ she says.
‘They all greeted me, reassuring me that I had nothing to worry about.’
After being interviewed and admitted, Naomi was to share a room with a lady in her mid-forties.
The lady at first was angry at the prospect of sharing a room with someone so young, but according Naomi they later became extremely close and still keep in touch to this day.
‘It was a lovely ward, with pictures all over the walls,’ Naomi says.
‘There was a beautiful garden and wonderful people.
‘Surprisingly, we didn’t spend our days in straight-jackets – we spent our days cheering each other up, dancing around to the radio and giving each other glamorous makeovers.
‘I had so many good times, which I never expected.
‘The nurses were great fun and were always there day and night if we needed anything.’
Naomi, who was on a unisex ward though the dorms and rooms were single sex, was also kept in a routine during her six-week stay.
‘We had breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same area at the same time and we were encouraged to do activities.’
Naomi was also put on Abilify, an anti-psychotic drug, while she was there – taking a break from the medication she had been prescribed prior for the cyclothymia.
But it wasn’t just the new medication that quickly begun helping Naomi’s state of mind – the other patients were also a huge help.
‘What surprised me was how supportive the patients were of each other,’ she says.
‘We laughed together but also were there to console and cheer up anyone who was down or crying.
‘I received some much needed comfort and cuddles when I was at my lowest.
‘There was one girl in particular I was very close with – she used to sit and play with and stroke my hair to calm me down.
‘It calmed me down when I was a kid and still does now.’
Toward the end of Naomi’s stay, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
At first, Naomi was extremely upset with the news.
‘I was a teenager and was just beginning to discover who I was,’ she says.
‘I was in denial – thought I was crazy. My consultant reassured me time and time again that I wasn’t crazy – just sick.’
‘I owe so much to her and the wonderful nurses who treated me as a human being rather than just another patient.
‘They knew my personality and interests inside out.’
Naomi was later discharged from her six-week stay after the diagnosis, when they had deemed the new medication was working and that her state of mind was clear enough for her to return home.
Before leaving, Naomi handed out bracelets to the patients, nurses and doctors and her ‘wonderful’ consultant.
She’d learned how to make them during occupational therapy and it had helped her keep relaxed and calm.
‘The day I left was a very proud day!’ Naomi says.
‘I owe so much to that hospital – it was a safe haven for me. They helped me realise I wasn’t crazy, just unwell.
‘But most of all they showed me not to believe everything you see on TV – mental health units are not something to be feared – they are there to change lives like mine for the better.’