Four Stigmatized Words that Freak People Out: Word 3

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2014 Nancy Virden

photo-24758352-illustration-of-a-doctor-at-her-desk-in-a-hospital_One Flew Over a Cuckoo’s Nest, Girl Interrupted, The Ward.

Funny Farm, Nut House, Looney Bin, Snake Pit, Madhouse, Lunatic Asylum, Booby Hatch, Laughing Academy.

Do you know word 3 yet? Behavioral Health facility, psychiatric hospital, or even psych-ward describe places many of us view with curiosity or even fear.

Some of our hesitation is no doubt left over from the days that tall buildings with barred windows loomed out over long well-watered yards. These were the structures children on bicycles would dare each other to pass. Parents in cars would grow quiet and answer children’s questions somberly. “That’s an insane asylum. People who are sick in the head have to live there.”

I know men and women besides myself who have been admitted repeatedly to inpatient behavioral health (psychiatric) wards.  When our brains are sick we need treatment, sometimes at a hospital. Judgment is never helpful.

It seems we are more comfortable with euphemisms if talking about mental health. While terms indicating a specialty in hospitals are readily accepted (such as ICU or maternity ward), references to where people receive mental help can sound more like, “that’s where the psychos are,” and “that’s where they lock up the crazies.” In more polite circles, the stereotypes might go unspoken, yet stigma remains very real.

Psychiatric wards are temporary stop-gaps between ill-health and health, just as other types of hospital wards are. Bars on windows protect sick and suicidal people from jumping to their deaths or harming themselves. Can you imagine the overwhelming level of pain one must be in to not only contemplate putting an end to living, but to attempt follow-through?  

I can. And there is no “laughing academy” atmosphere in the place where professionals work night and day to keep emotionally hurting and mentally ill patients alive. It can be as intense as an ICU and filled with as many anxious patients as a maternity ward.

Psychiatric wards are as normal for mental health challenges as cardiac units are for heart patients. Next time someone says they were admitted to a psychiatric ward, ask the same questions you would if they said they spent awhile in the ICU. “Really? What happened? Are you ok now?”

Visiting a psychiatric ward to say hello to a sick friend doesn’t have to freak anyone out. Suggesting a loved one go to a psychiatric ward to be safe isn’t an insult. Taking yourself to the Emergency Room and checking in to the psychiatric ward is not shameful.

Losing one more life due to embarrassment and misunderstanding, is.


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help can be yours.

*picture from qualitystockphotos



Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.