‘I have never felt more unsafe than I did in hospital’
Content warning: This blog includes descriptions of forced treatment in hospital that some people may find distressing. It also includes a reference to sexual harassment.
Priya blogs about her traumatic experience after being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
I only remember fragments of the psychotic episode that propelled me to A&E in December 2022. My friends had found me quivering on the floor of a red phone-box in central London, having run away from home. When they asked me why I was there, I replied ‘the Matrix’, as if that made perfect sense.
“Hospital. It’s a word that means different things to different people, but should inspire, above all, a sense of safety.”
I had several - at times - terrifying delusions and hallucinations that were rapidly changing and shifting from moment to moment, and was no doubt very unwell. But this story isn’t about that. This story is about the horrors, firmly rooted in the real world, that came after, when I was sectioned and detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act.
Hospital. It’s a word that means different things to different people, but should inspire, above all, a sense of safety. Policies and procedures – one would hope – would be followed properly, and patients would have a voice and a say in their recovery journey as they moved towards discharge.
But I have never felt more unsafe than I did in that place.
Too much noise, not enough staff
The first thing that struck me, before I even absorbed my surroundings, was the noise. Inpatient wards are extremely loud places – the combined effect of too many patients, not enough staff, not enough funding. I found it nearly impossible to sleep, let alone to get the attention of staff when I needed to. There was just so much going on all the time. Staff were pulled in so many different directions at once and it was clear that there just weren’t enough of them.
One day I went to turn the tap in the communal kitchen as usual to fill up my cup with water. But no water came out. The plumbing was faulty. Some other patients and I asked the nurses if they could bring jugs of water as a substitute, and we were told the issue would be fixed soon. Only it wasn’t – not for twelve hours. I felt so ignored and unheard. I felt invisible.
“Although the harassment I experienced was witnessed by other patients and I reported it, the perpetrator remained on the same ward.”
These feelings were magnified when I was sexually harassed by another patient. Although my room was in the female-only zone of the ward, the door to this area was unlocked during the day. This meant that if staff weren’t quick enough, male patients could get through. One day, this is happened, and I had to press the alarm in my room.
Although the harassment I experienced was witnessed by other patients and I reported it, the perpetrator remained on the same ward as me, occupying the same communal areas. I was frightened to be forced to share the same spaces as him in the days after. I know that staff have the power to move patients to other wards, but this was not done. I felt let down by the very people who were meant to protect me.
Needing therapy for time in hospital
I have also seen patients get forcibly injected in front of me – with only a blanket held up by members of staff to shield what was happening. I, myself, was injected in front of others the day of my admission. I can still hear the screams as this was done . In fact, my time at hospital is something I’ve sought support for in therapy since leaving – it was that bad.
This just isn’t good enough. Acute inpatient services should be a refuge, not a source of added trauma. Raise the standard, so that hospitals can at the very least be the safe space we deserve.
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