As I said in my introduction to this series, I won’t be discussing any of the other patients on Stanage Ward in detail, or by name, but obviously it would be weird to not mention this aspect of my time there. Looking back, I can’t remember exactly how many us there were at the time. I think between 15 and 25 at once, although this was constantly changing.
I met a real range of people while I was in there, and learned a lot about different mental illnesses and the way they impact people. Most of the people there had been ‘sectioned’ which means their admission had been mandatory under the Mental Health Act. Unlike voluntary patients like myself, they were subject to strict rules about if and when they were allowed to leave the ward at all, and their time in hospital could be extended at any time, despite what their own wishes were. Whilst it would have been foolish of me to discharge myself, I could have done if I’d chosen to, and as long as I spoke to a member of staff who did a risk assessment before I left the ward, I could do so pretty much whenever I asked during the day, as long as someone was with me.
The people I met were all so different, although many of them were grouped under similar diagnoses. Paranoid schizophrenia, personality disorder, eating disorder, severe depression, dementia. As a society we find these kinds of labels scary and often assume that those they are attached to are also scary or ‘other’, but everyone I met was just a person who wasn’t very well. Some were a lot more unwell than others, some would need to be on medication or under care for the rest of their lives to help manage their illnesses. Stanage is an acute ward, which means that most patients are sort of passing through on their way to the next stage of their treatment or care. Whilst a handful of patients were there for the entirety of my 18 days, most came and went within a week or so, either to another more specialised ward, to the next stage of their ‘step-down’ back into the community, or to their own home.
Some spent their days shut in their rooms, only leaving to venture to the outside space to smoke , but most like me sat in the communal areas, chatting to support workers and each other, and we all had to eat together in the dining room. I met some amazing, brave and inspiring people on Stanage. Some wrote poetry, some drew amazing pictures, others were kind enough to comfort me during my meltdowns despite how they were feeling. At times, the way some behaved was a bit scary, but none of it was ever directed towards me, and was usually based on some way they felt they were being unfairly treated. Which would make anyone angry, I think.
Sometimes I wonder where they all are and how they’re doing. You can’t help but grow close to people in that situation, and I did swap numbers with some of them before I left, but I’m not really in touch with anyone from Stanage now. I think when you’re coping with your own mental ill health, it can sometimes be hard to stay connected with others who are in their own dark place.
I’m grateful for everything those people taught me about life, humanity and mental health. I wish as a society we weren’t so scared to see those with mental illnesses as people who deserve just as much love, respect and care as everyone else.