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Do we ever recover from the trauma of psychiatric hospitals?

guinea1 profile image

I know that we recover from postpartum psychosis, but can I ask do those who end up in general psychiatric hospitals , ever recover from that trauma? The reason why l ask is I locked the trauma away for some 20 odd years until I couldn't hold onto it any longer, to me it was a whole month of a very traumatic experience, I have been diagnosed with PTSD because of the ordeal... for years I had this locked door in my mind that was like a furnace to go near, was unable to talk to anyone in my family, for fear of upsetting memories for everyone so was very much alone.. I feared anything to do with mental illness, when I finally broke down to my gp, I was so fearful of being sent back to the psychiatric hospital it took a long time for him to gain my trust even to accept the smallest amount of help from therapy as the trust was shot. How can doctors help mothers who have suffered from PPP recovered, but have this trauma left for years, unresolved memories and understanding to what happened... I am lucky as my doctor recognised something wasn't right and it wasn't just low mood too with menopause, I was terrified of getting PPP again as was told it would come back at menopause but no one explained and I held that in to with the trauma...... should doctors be aware of mothers who have experienced out of the blue PP and been in a psychiatric hospital be more aware of them maybe having unprocessed trauma, maybe an extra wellbeing appointment around the time of menopause to discuss how they are or check ins later on after the PPP experience to see if any lasting effects are going on... I am getting help and waiting for therapy now, 26yrs this month ago, but it does concern me others may suffer in silence or be treated for other things, it is so hard to talk once things are locked away...

12 Replies
HelenMW profile image

Hello there,

I just wanted to share some of my story with you as we have some similarities. My episode of PP was out of the blue and I found myself in a general psychiatric hospital on a high care ward. I was in with young and old women and later in a ward with men as well. It was an awful time as I could not work out where I was, had I had a baby or not, who were these people around me and why was I hearing voices, hallucinating and smelling things?? My episode was in 1988. After a while they were able to find a day room where I could go with my daughter when she was brought into the unit but I could not care for her very well and people seemed to be able to come in and out of the room at random. The mother and baby units that I hear about now sound wonderful in comparison.

I recovered after 3 months and took medication for one year afterwards.

I went on to have two more daughters in 1996 and 1999. I gathered as much information as I could about PP and liaised with specialists in the field. To cut a long story short, my mother moved in with us for 10 days after the birth and her mission was that I just had to sleep lots and feed the baby. It was a very precious time for all of us, and to be well during the post natal period was such a blessing. First time round my delivery had been very difficult indeed and afterwards I had no sleep for quite a few days and have clear memories of needing food but being unable to find any!

Like you I read that I might relapse during the menopause. What I found was that if I allowed myself to get too stressed and tired then I would have what I would call an uneasy feeling. When this happened and lets be honest, menopause, tiredness, family, teenagers, life in general it is not unheard of. I looked into self care and worked out what helps me to relax. Music, nice smells, dog walks, relaxing baths and nothing too traumatic on the TV. Key thing for me is a tray of red bush tea and a very early night!! I also had to let my husband know I was feeling uneasy and sometimes he just had to make decisions for me as I felt I could not answer too many questions or make decisions. I did get through the menopause!!

Over this last year I developed a condition called Graves Disease and Hyperthyroidism. What surprised me was that this little thyroid gland is responsible for our hormone balance and so many other vital functions. My mental health was affected along with my other symptoms. I shared this with my endocrinologist as I felt I was slipping into feeling mentally unwell. He suggested a course of CBT. I was able to access a course called Silver Cloud, through Italk. I have found this to be so helpful as it is online, in your own home and at your own pace. The waiting lists for therapy are getting so long and this has been an invaluable support for me. Enabling me to think about past traumas and put them into perspective. I have found it to be so beneficial. My daughters are all adults now and they have also been so supportive. Happy to report that for the moment the condition is under control with medication and my symptoms have gone away. Very grateful to the GP and the specialists and the after care.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I think what you have said makes a great deal of sense. I new I needed to talk to the endocrinologist and be honest about how I was feeling and he was able to point me in the direction of help. I think you may find some other posts about the menopause on here.

I hope you are soon able to access the help that you need and you are able to move forward. Thanks again for sharing. All the very best, Helen

guinea1 profile image
guinea1 in reply to HelenMW

Hi Helen Thank you for your reply, I am glad you are ok. It is a very strange thing what we go through and back in the day treatment or understanding wasn't very good, I was lucky to get away from the hospital as it was making me worse, so have nothing positive to take away from the treatment there, probably why things came to a head in the end. I got triggered from a very abrupt consultant about my tummy 8 years back and then all the flashbacks came... but couldn't understand why I felt like I did, 4 years later I met a new gp was so supportive as I feared what would happen to me as couldn't go back to a psychiatric hospital or even talk to a psychiatrist. Luckily my gp gradually helped me to be able to realize that I would not be locked away again... CBT didn't do much good I got more from my gp then them as they wouldn't talk about the past, 4 years on I have been through counselling and some emdr treatment, but only touched a tiny part and with out faces and knowing who you are aiming the things at it was hard.... I am now in secondary care and have a care worker who has been there during the wait been a year so far, hopefully not so long... I also have my medical records that my gp is going to help me go through so may give a little understanding to what actually happened in the hospital and help with my journey forward.... the trauma is difficult to comprehend sometimes and there also was a fear of hurting family when they hear how badly if had effected me... just glad I had the support from the gp as things had started to go in to a dark place, I still fear the psychiatric team, but can trust them. The psychiatrist says my story is a very sad one and it wasn't my fault for getting Ill hopefully one day I will be able to live with what happened without overwhelming grief

Twobabies profile image

Hello Guinea1, I can relate to trauma of being on general psych ward. I had PPP in 2018 and spent around two months on two different psych wards before moving to an MBU. It’s funny that a place that is supposed to help is so traumatic. As far as I can see they are more designed for surveillance than healing and rest. In the first ward there was no nature or access to nature the spaces are clinical with no soft surfaces there was distress and screaming and shouting a scary environment. And then of course you have strangers following you or sitting at your door which is hard to understand when you are very stressed and unwell, I have blanks from my experience some of which I don’t know is because of being very sedated on meds or if I was too unwell to lay memories down or if I did and they are too traumatic to remember. I did ask a psychiatrist about this and they thought the first too. I’m glad to hear you trusting doc more Abd getting done support I don’t think it’s that unusual to have a long delay before ptsd comes. It is such a traumatic illness and environment. I ended up paying for weekly private therapy to have an outlet to discus. I also tried to self refer for talking therapy on nhs but they offer cbt which I know some people have found really effective. Agree with your view I think the treatment / environment of accrue wards should be looked at. I also think A&E can be very traumatic too. I hope there will be different set ups for mental health issues in future. Sending hugs and hope you get help to recover from the ptsd. Emma XX

Twobabies profile image
TwobabiesVolunteer in reply to Twobabies

Sorry I just seen lots of typos in my reply hope you can make sense of it. Acute ward that should read x

guinea1 profile image
guinea1 in reply to Twobabies

I can relate to this so much, though it is sad to hear that others are still being traumatised by psychiatric hospitals and treatment.. I thought it was just back then and feel there is so much more to be done to stop new mums at a very vulnerable time, maybe already been through a traumatic labour and then told you need to go to this hospital that will help you and you put your trust in these professionals.. but the place is a very volatile environment, just making things worse.. I feel more needs to be studied about the effects on mums and general psychiatric hospital treatment

Merry_cherry profile image

Hello guinea1,

I'm very sorry you had such a traumatic experience. I had PP almost 4 years ago. Like you and HelenMW, I was admitted to General Psychiatric ward where I spent 6 weeks. I was then released back home with a plan on reducing medication. It went downhill from there pretty fast and I was lucky to then be admitted to MBU.

I can say I have recovered from PP but from all that experience the hardest thing to get over was the stay on the general psych ward and what happened there.

I haven't spoken to my family about my time there in detail as I too feel it might be too painful for them hear how I felt and why. But I'm so glad I found APP forum and all the lovely ladies who've "been there"! Just reading others stories of recovery has been inspiring and uplifting.

I'm glad you've found some help from your GP and hope your medical records will make it easier for you to move forward. You can always post here if you want to talk xx

guinea1 profile image
guinea1 in reply to Merry_cherry

Thank you for your reply and so sorry that you suffered , yes it is very hard to talk to family, but I have been able to probably because I got PTSD so had to really.. just wish I hadn't blocked it out as very unhelpful, but there wasn't any other way to deal with it .. I have come to terms with the trauma around the birth now, so the next step will be the big one and hopefully will be able to live with the trauma out side without have to numb it away and block the pain... I hope I will be able to post again to how I am getting on and help others not to block it out for too long.. I wish I had found APP years ago..

EmiMum profile image

Hi guinea1,

Thanks for raising a very important topic. I am sorry to hear about the lasting trauma you have had experienced.

I had pp in 2018, and a short stint in an acute psych ward of 10 days, before being transferred to an MBU. I am so grateful that while in the psych ward I was under a perinatal psychiatrist, that recognized my symptoms for what they were and quickly started the process of arranging my transfer to an mbu and put me on the right medication from the get go.

Nevertheless, an acute ward is a frightening place, but at the peak of my illness I was one of the most acute patients in the ward, and seriously disruptive. I remember triggering alarms in the middle of the night, needing 2 people to sit outside my door to check I was not trying escape my room and wander around the ward, while during the day I was a completely different person too scared to even open the door and glance outside my bedroom. My ward was gender segregated and all the nurses were female, however one male nurse from the floor below had to be called in every now and then for my benefit as we know that when our body is pumping full of adrenaline you gain super human strength (he was though a great professional and so experienced, with a gentle manner that I remember so well to this day).

Another component that adds to the mess of a stay in a psych ward (any of them including an MBU) for me was the section. It is a huge thing to be stripped off your freedom and having the decision power over your own self overruled. Looking back I was in no place to decide what was best for me, so a section was a 100% the right decision. Still it is a huge deal for me to come to terms with that decision having had to be made.

I am glad to hear how you have found a supportive gp after many years that recognized your trauma for what it was. It does make a huge difference to be listened to, and sadly as you say, sometimes trust has been eroded from past experiences, so an unhelpful professional is sometimes not only unhelpful at the time but can have a negative impact on all future contacts.

I so agree with you that follow ups should be more proactive, specially in periods were there is an increased risk like the menopause. We have come a long way I think in the past few years, but still there is lots more that could be done :)

Take good care guinea1, I wish you all the best with going over your medical records and so glad that your gp has offered to be there with you at the time of reading. Thinking of you.

guinea1 profile image
guinea1 in reply to EmiMum

Thank you, I was never sectioned, as went willingly but then they wouldn't let me go home, I wasn't any trouble to what I know of, my records may show different, I was just absolutely terrified whilst I was there, there was no hope and because I gained no benefit from being there, husband got me out, everything felt hopeless I couldn't even look after myself and terrified of baby incase I hurt her, it was only when my husband kept telling me I wouldn't hurt her and I put a pillow over her head that they quickly found a place for me in a clinic for me and baby to go, they gave me one to one and listened to my needs and I felt more in control of what happened to me it was so different, I think that is what made it so hard to understand why k was treated with little care in the hospital, but felt I deserved it for being a bad mother or not fighting and being able to communicate with them.

Yes definitely things need to be made aware of the traumatic experiences that mums experience in general psychiatric hospitals. The patient has very different needs and can be very scary. Hopefully things will get better in the future especially with the new mental health act coming in.

EmiMum profile image

Hi guinea1,

You are absolutely right that being able to keep mother and baby together is so beneficial to mum's recovery. I am glad that after the traumatic experience of the general psych you then went to a clinic where your needs were listened to. But it is bittersweet, and one reflects, well then why couldn't it be like this in every place.

I hope that going through your notes while in general psych brings you some closure.

Take good care

Wow I've just posted a similar question, strange coincidence. I also fear reacurrence (following child birth) and later in life/not too far away... menopause :/

guinea1 profile image
guinea1 in reply to Jlou84

Hi, how strange, the menopause I haven't really had much bother with funnily enough it was the build up and the fear of what I thought would be postpartum psychosis with out a baby(if you get what I mean) as that is how the social worker put it so I had been scared for a long time and dread built up.. I had had a second child with no PPP , but that didn't stop the anxiety.... it is hard just go for a appointment for a conversation up with a doctor, being the trauma still un resolved.. glad I have now.. though he knew things were not right way before I did as couldn't face the possibility of becoming Ill, glad he was there to catch me when I did break down, we have built up a great relationship have that trust and someone on my side this time.. I feel it is something that needs to be discussed and hopefully more research in to menopause and the trauma of psychiatric hospitals... if they knew how it affects new mums, then maybe they would try harder not to shove them away so freely... we have to hope xx

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