This article reflects on my time in University of North Carolina, Chapel Hills Neurosciences Hospital. It is written about my time on the Post Partum Unit and is in contrast with my time in both the Psychiatric ER and the General Population Unit. There are about 15 beds total, in the country to specifically treat post part depression patients. Though, it is one of the most common illnesses of pregnancy. These sites are studying how to treat this patient population. As this mental illness can be much different from other mental health issues. The model under which these units function, I believe is a reflection of what mental health care should look like in our country. Please support these sites and help them fundraise. Reach out, donate to these centers. Write to your politicians and encourage them to fight for funding for post partum depression and mental health in the U.S. If you would like more information on my time in the psychiatric hospital, continue reading my blog. I will soon be covering the part of my story involving my mental illness and hospitalization.
10 Things That I Wish You New About Quality Psychiatric Treatment:
1. You get your own room.
This 5 bed unit had four individual rooms and one shared room. Often, two women who had been there longer and became friends would offer to be roommates and let the new moms have their own space. We were never forced into a roommate situation, and when we did room together we weren’t afraid of each other. We had gotten to know one another and form bonds.
2. The doors to the bathrooms locked.
We were actually allowed bins with bathroom accessories that we weren’t otherwise allow to have in our presence due to suicide risk. When they told me I could use a hair dryer and a curling iron I started crying. It felt like a level of my dignity had been restored. We were even allowed to put on makeup. In other units you couldn’t use makeup that contained a mirror, as you could break it and use it as a weapon. Here, they wanted us to feel attractive and comfortable in our own skin.
3. There were times of the day where the nurses would take us off the unit.
We were allowed to go off unit with the nursing staff, once our psychiatrists had approved it. The nurses would sometimes take us to the hospital Starbucks to get a coffee and to sit outside. Fresh air and sunshine is so important to a person healing from mental illness. Being trapped inside, out of the sun can make depression worse. As well, we were getting to walk and stretch our legs. Being trapped in a small unit with locked doors can make you go stir crazy. It was such a gift to get a coffee and feel like we still belonged in the real world.
4. The staff were compassionate and wanted to be there.
Even though the staff on this unit worked hard, they built report with us. They would spend time with us, getting to know us. We could ask them anything and there would be no judgement. I never felt like my words were going to be twisted or used against me. Multiple times, I came out of my room and was feeling suicidal. The nurses would get me a lavender eye cover, rub my back, talk to me calmly, put on music, turn out the lights, and sit with me until I felt better. They never made me feel that I was “crazy.” They talked to me as a person and treated me with dignity. The nursing aides would help some of the women with hair, makeup, or do there nails to help them have a more positive outlook. They considered these things to be vital to improving the overall sense of self and healing the patient.
5. The medical team was individualized.
There was only even one psychiatrist and/or her medical resident present. They would come meet with you in your room each morning and do a full assessment. They wanted to know how you were feeling about your treatment so far, how the medications were helping or hurting, how they were going to proceed, and what the rest of your stay looked like at that point. I felt that I was a huge part of my own treatment. Family could come in to meet with the doctors or my doctors would call my family own their own and speak with them about the changes they were making and why. It really helped my spouse to be aware of what was going on and to advocate for me, when needed. If the side effects of the medication became too much, I would simply get the nurse to page the doctor and she would call back shortly.
6. Therapies were both group and individual.
Each day there was group therapy, where a certain topic pertaining to our mental health was discussed. They wanted us to reflect on how we had gotten to the place we were in our mental illness. That life choices, personality, and circumstance sometimes lead to becoming mentally ill. We weren’t victims with no hope. We had things we could do to help ourselves and changes we needed to make, if we ever wanted to be healthy again. There was also individual counseling each day in the rooms. During this time, family members could be invited in to participate in the discussion. That way, family would see things they could do in the future and how to help. It gave my spouse hope that he could do something, that he could be a part of my healing.
7. They had daily classes to help build coping skills.
We worked on art projects frequently, as these are really effective in calming anxiety. The repetitive movements are soothing to the brain. We used little electronic devices that help you learn to bring your heart rate and respiratory rate into alignment and can be used to stop an anxiety attack. During spiritual time, if we wanted, we met with a chaplain and discuss how our illness was effecting out faith. We would walk through a labyrinth in the meditation garden to reach a clam meditative like state and have personal reflection time. We had yoga as an option a few times a week. It was done in the dark with soothing music and lavender. We learned how yoga could help us relieve stress. When we left, I felt like I was given skills that would help me cope at home.
8. There was a daily schedule so most of your time was used efficiently and we wouldn’t become bored.
We ate breakfast and our other meals at the same time everyday. The were usually two morning session therapies and two afternoon. We had occupational therapy, counseling, an exercise class, yoga, spiritual counseling, and four hours or more of family visitation each day. We were, also, encouraged to spend lots of time together. These women and I became friends and allies. We were all in the same boat. Though we were from different walks of life, there was no judgement. Because we all had the same mental illness, we could talk about what medications were working and how they were helping. We could see the changes in each other and encourage one another.
9. Sleep was guarded each night.
They were very strict about sleep. As sleep is vital to mental health and a lack of sleep can signal that something is wrong. No phone calls were allowed, no visitors, and no doctors visits from 9pm-8am. They gave us medication to help us sleep, if needed, and encouraged good sleep hygiene. Getting adequate rest was one of the most healing components of the unit.
10. They let your family and your babies come and visit.
Family time was such a joy. As you got better, they would even give you off unit passes. You were actually allowed to leave the unit with your family for an hour at a time and see what it would be like to start transitioning back to the outside world. Mommas were not completely separated from their babies. Learning to cope with taking care of the baby is so vital to healing. As well, bonding can be difficult during post partum depression. They wanted to promote our bonding with our babies. Finally, they promoted breastfeeding as long as the medication allowed, and they had a psychiatric lactation expert on hand to approve medication changes, ensuring that our medications were safe for baby.
Overall, my experience on the postpartum unit saved me life. I needed help, and because of receiving such quality care, I returned home healthier than when I left. This is not always the case with mental hospitals. Many leave the person feeling more wounded and marginalized than when they entered. We must see change in mental health care in this country. People with mental illness matter. Than are not less than. They are human beings, with rights. Rights to proper and safe medical care. Please be their advocates. Reach out to people in your life with mental health issues and be an encourager. Be a part of their healing.