Something I haven’t spoken about in great detail is the experiences I have had in an inpatient psychiatric facility. There was good and bad in the experience, but unfortunately, it was overall, quite traumatic.
I have been an inpatient twice in my life, the first was because I required an inpatient detox to help me get sober, the second (the one I will be focusing on) was due to psychosis.
It was around the beginning of May 2016 when it happened. My voice hearing and paranoia had been getting worse since finding sobriety, and one night I just snapped. My mother found me catatonic in the living room, muttering about things that she didn’t understand.
An ambulance was called and I was taken to the local accident and emergency department for immediate psychiatric assessment. Upon assessment, it was made clear to me that I could go into the psychiatric hospital voluntarily, otherwise they would section me.
The psych ward was a scary place, many of the patients (to my eye) were far more ill than I was. I felt as though I was being held without due course.
At the time, I did not have an autism diagnosis, and was in fact diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (also known as Borderline Personality Disorder, according to my psychiatrist). This diagnosis was used to invalidate and gaslight me throughout my entire hospital experience.
As many will know, the NHS here in the UK is terribly understaffed due to government cuts. This was no different on the psych ward. Between 5 and 8 members of staff were responsible for around 20 patients, all of whom were profoundly ill.
Many patients were violent, and little happened to them. When I did see restraint (both physical and chemical) it was used on a small woman who had already calmed down. It seemed to me that medication was a punishment in there, rather than the lifesaving treatment that I know it to be now.
I was having regular meltdowns, I tried to elope several times. I was threatened with police and told that I was attention seeking and “seeking” specific diagnosis. There answer was to pump me full of antupsychotics. By the time I was discharged, I could barely string a coherent sentence together.
This practice was known as chemical restraint, and it was used to make patients easier to cope with when the staff were so terribly outnumbered.
I knew my diagnosis was wrong, and my psychosis continued long after I was discharged.
Being an Autistic in a psychiatric hospital was honestly, deeply traumatising. I was invalidated and gaslit at every turn, I was bullied by other patients, I was treated as a nuisance. I would like to think that a formal diagnosis would have resulted in at least some understanding, but sadly that didn’t happen until the following November.
Inpatient facilities need to look really carefully at how they recognise and engage with autistic patients. The experience was so unpleasant for me, but I wasn’t safe anywhere else, so I felt trapped.
It was the longest month of my life, and thankfully I now have an advanced directive in place stating I should only be hospitalised if nothing else is working.
Psychiatric hospital is necessary for some, but in this country, it has a long way to come in how it handles autistic patients.