Day 19: Visit the psychiatric hospital. Voluntarily.

This was not my first rodeo. I’ve been to the psychiatric hospital before and my memories of those experiences are not great. It is a dark and unforgiving place full of lonely people and cynical staff.

My first time there was to see my mother who was locked up involuntarily due to her years long decent into crazytown. In the end I don’t know what was more painful to see, crazytown population: mom or the psychiatric hospital where everyone is so drugged up they are barely functioning zombies. I recognize that in order to begin treatment a patient needs to be stabilized and often sedated but it was a terrible thing to see.  I remember having to hold her up because she couldn’t walk on her own, and trying to carry on a conversation with those vacant eyes.  In the end I just cried because I couldn’t do anything else. No one comes to comfort you and explain anything to you because they probably have seen that a million times before. It was normal there and no one cared.

That was many years ago but unfortunately not much has changed since then with regards to service and facilities until now.  The new psychiatric hospital in the city is due to open in three weeks time and this weekend they provided guided tours.  I wanted to see it for myself and hear about all the improvements that have been made.  I was impressed.  It is a vast and modern structure filled with light and clean lines. They are providing a person centered approach focussed on recovery.  Each patient has their own room with ensuite bath and keycard to ensure privacy. There are a total of 16 courtyards and every single room has a view of either a courtyard or greenspace.  The nurses stations don’t have plexiglass walls anymore so people will feel more like patients and less like criminals. There is a bank, hair salon, used clothing store, library, yoga studio, weight room, full sized gym, labyrinth, tennis courts, baseball diamond, soccer field and 8 klms of walking trails. They have integrated both in and out-patient services to reduce stigmatization and increase a mix of consumers. It also has four 1,200 sq ft apartments for transitional living from hospital to community.  It will have the first concurrent disorders ward for mental health and addiction which is very exciting. I was impressed.  What pleased me the most was how many people were there for the tour.  It was packed and the volunteers had prepared well.  There was a mix of clinicians, patients and neighbours who all wanted to see the new facilities but what stuck me most was how supportive and understanding everyone was of mental health. Over the weekend they probably saw about 2,000 people.

The tour ended with everyone having the opportunity to create a tile which would be displayed as part of a large scale mural in the hospital for everyone to see. The words and images were supportive and hopeful. I hope that it will be a new beginning of treatment and that no one ever has to have terrible memories of their visit again.

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