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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
'I just didn't feel safe at all'
By Lincoln Archer
BBC News Online

Silhouette of a woman
Dolly said sexual harassment was common in the ward
Are the conditions mental health patients have to deal with really as "woeful" as the charity Mind claims?

A former patient has told BBC News Online what life was like in a psychiatric ward.

Dolly Sen, a 33-year-old writer from London, spent more than two months in a mental health ward after having a "psychotic episode".

"I was hearing voices in my head and was finally admitted because I had become so paranoid that I thought my family was going to kill me," she said.

Ms Sen said she was also suffering from manic depression at the time.

But instead of finding in hospital the supportive environment she needed to focus on her treatment, she said she encountered only fear and intimidation.

"I felt quite vulnerable," she said. "I just didn't feel safe there at all."

Abuse

Ms Sen said she was placed in a mixed sex ward, where sexual harassment and verbal abuse were commonplace.

Often the staff would be at one end of the ward and we'd all be at the other
Dolly Sen

"Men would be making rude comments, they'd ask for sexual favours," she said.

"There'd be a woman sitting [in a common room] and there'd be a man beside her trying to chat her up using quite explicit language.

"The women weren't interested but a lot of the women there were depressed and not able to be assertive."

She said she faced verbal abuse from patients and some staff on a daily basis, including one occasion when she was called a "stupid little girl" by a nurse on the ward.

While she was never subjected to physical abuse, Ms Sen said she saw patients harming each other "every day".

Racism was rife, she said, although she added that the targets would depend on which race was in the minority at any given time.

Ms Sen said some nurses on the ward were extremely supportive but others were of little help.

"We only saw [some] staff at medication time or if someone was acting up in a really violent way.

Patient in a hospital ward
Mind's survey found most patients did not feel safe
"Often the staff would be at one end of the ward and we'd all be at the other."

The conditions in the ward were so bad that after one month she decided she had to leave, even though her treatment was still continuing.

"I wanted to get out of the ward, so I lied. I wasn't feeling better at all but I told them that I was," she said.

"People would often lie just to get out."

Once out, however, her symptoms soon came crowding back around her.

After one month away from the ward she found herself admitted again, confronting the same intimidation and abuse once more.

'No change'

It is now four years since Dolly Sen was last admitted. In that time she has done work for a mental health arts organisation and hopes to write about what those on psychiatric wards have to deal with.

If you don't have support from family and friends you're really in trouble
Dolly Sen

She said talking to those recently discharged from care had shown her the conditions for many in-patients remained just as bad as those she experienced.

"I don't see any changes at all ... I've spoken to over 300 people who've had in-patient experiences and only two of them said it was positive."

Ms Sen said that while she still hears voices sometimes, she now knows how to deal with them and can still live a relatively full and normal life.

She said the support she received from those outside the ward was crucial in helping her recover.

"If you don't have support from family and friends you're really in trouble. I feel sorry for those who don't have that."




SEE ALSO:
'Mental health plan watered down'
19 Aug 04  |  Politics
'Psychiatric services failed me'
04 Aug 04  |  Health


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