I recently spent four weeks in hospital. Obviously, I wasn’t well. Four weeks is a long time to be in hospital. But I’m pleased to say that my stint there really helped me to recuperate, and I felt a lot better by the time I was discharged.
Which is all perfectly normal, really, isn’t it? Person gets ill, person goes to hospital, person gets treated, and person leaves hospital. And while the person is in hospital? Lots of visits from family and friends. Get well cards. Grapes. Flowers. And when the person gets home? Probably more cards. More flowers. Constant phone calls, texts and visitors to check on how your recovery is going.
All perfectly normal, yes.
None of this happens if the hospital you’re in happens to be a psychiatric hospital.
Because here’s what happens when you get admitted to a psychiatric hospital. You get ill, you go to hospital, no-one really visits, no-one really calls, no-one sends flowers, or a card. Once you’re discharged and go home, people avoid mentioning ‘it’. People don’t ask how you are. People look uncomfortable if you talk about ‘it’. People assume that, because you’re ‘out’, and they can’t see anything physically wrong with you, you’re completely better, and ‘it’ is never mentioned again.
Which is pretty surreal. Because I was really unwell. I had severe post natal depression and anxiety, and I’d been struggling with it for a long time. I needed to be in hospital. So why isn’t my stay in hospital acknowledged, like any other stay in a hospital would be? Why was my stay so taboo that some people very dear to me didn’t even call me to see how I was getting on?
I genuinely don’t know. I’m completely open about my battle with mental illness, hence why I write these posts. To me, none of this is taboo, it’s just normal. I‘m normal. I’m just me, and I happened to get ill, just like we all do. For me, it is odd that people might be uncomfortable acknowledging my illness when I am very open about it.
(In fact, I’d genuinely appreciate if someone is uncomfortable discussing this could explain why they struggle to talk about it.)
It obviously doesn’t help that people know I’ve been in a ‘psychiatric hospital’. Because this makes people think ‘mental hospital’. Or, even worse, ‘mental institution’ (or, as a well-meaning relative said to me: ‘“When you were in the mental… you know, that place, whatever you call it…” “Hospital?” “Yes.”) The phrase ‘mental institution’ stirs up an image of crazy people locked away in strait jackets and padded cells. But this is so far from the actual reality of a psychiatric hospital, which is, you guessed it, just like a hospital, with beds, and patients, and TV rooms and dining rooms selling vending machine coffee.
It’s a real shame that we still deem it necessary to make a lexical distinction between ‘hospital’ and ‘psychiatric hospital’. Are they both hospitals? Check. Do you have to be ill to stay in them? Check. Do you get looked after by doctors and nurses? Check. Do they serve pretty ordinary food? Check. So what’s the difference? There isn’t one. But the word ‘psychiatric’ is so loaded with stigma and judgement that it turns a normal thing – going to hospital – in to something that that people feel uncomfortable talking about. Just by adding one simple word.
I believe that, if we could stop talking about ‘psychiatric hospitals’, and instead just called them ‘hospitals’, it would be one small step towards a wider acknowledgment that mental illness as just that – an illness, that makes you unwell, and that you can be treated for and recover from. That it is normal. Normal people get it. Because it’s an illness, and like most illnesses, it doesn’t discriminate. You either get it or you don’t.
So please, let’s stop the labelling. And if you have a friend or family member who is admitted to hospital, whichever hospital that may be, send them a card. Give them a call. Let them know you’re thinking of them and rooting for them to recover. Believe me, it’ll make all the difference in the world.