College of Nursing, Psychiatry

Behind Locked Doors in Psychiatry

Senior Student Nurse in Psychiatry – June 1976

After driving through heavy iron gates, I parked at the large state mental hospital campus on the edge of the city. As I walked toward my assigned locked men’s ward I silently prayed, “Dear Lord, Please protect me and put your hedge around me. Give me wisdom in every situation, and let your love shine through me to these men.” I took a deep breath and pressed the buzzer on the intercom beside the door of the old red brick building. “Yes?” answered a woman. “I’m a student nurse reporting for duty from the University.” The door buzzed, I pushed it open and entered.

My professor told me I would lead therapeutic groups with six men who had been institutionalized here many years. Some had a history of rape and murder. After entering the locked nurse’s station, I began to read each patient’s thick chart and took notes. The men stared blankly ahead while lined up at the nurse’s window to receive their medications. After each man swallowed his pills, he opened his mouth so the nurse could inspect to make sure he had not pocketed any pills to hoard them for an overdose.

The sickly pale green walls of the dayroom with a single bare light bulb hanging from the 12-foot high ceiling and iron bars over the windows depressed me. The men wandered aimlessly or sat at the table staring into space dressed in their shabby pants, shirts, and shoes. They lit their cigarettes on the bare hot wire on the wall. Some of them spit on the floor. One man took off his clothes, unaware of anyone else in the room, and wandered. The stench in the smoke-filled room made me nauseated.

The staff person pointed me to the six men assigned to my small group.  I timidly invited each one to meet me in the small room. After we all sat in a circle, we introduced ourselves. I then asked an assigned question and waited for each to answer. I was trying to learn the skill of “therapeutic silence” and waited for the person to answer. I waited and waited and waited, but some of them never answered.

I dreaded my clinical days and began to lose weight. I witnessed the depths of the depravity of man as never before and continually thanked God for saving my soul. I concluded that reformation does not work, because it does not deal with a person’s sin nature. The only solution is a new birth spiritually, as Christ said, “Do not marvel that I said to you, you must be born again.John 3:7 (NKJV) I thank God for this promise to all who receive Him as their personal Savior, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” II Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) I am grateful I had this quarter because it taught me more about the importance of communication, and how to talk with people about sensitive topics.

As I reviewed my classes in the college of nursing, psychiatry was definitely the most difficult course for me emotionally and as a believer in Jesus Christ. Amazingly, 20 years later my first Nurse Practitioner job was at a psychiatric hospital. I was responsible for their physical examinations and diagnosing and treating their medical problems. I also managed the patients who went through alcohol and heroin/opiate detoxification.

The medications that are available today to treat mental illness are much more effective than the few that we had in 1976. I believe some types of mental illness come from chemical imbalances, genetics, poor diet, and side effects of other medications.

Other types of mental problems are a direct result of sin that only salvation by Christ Jesus can solve. Others are from demon possession. As I read about the demon-possessed man in Mark 5, it says that no man could bind him with chains, and he lived in the mountains and tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones. Oh, the agony of that man. But after Jesus cast out the demons, the people came and saw him “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind.” Mark 5:15 (NKJV) What wonder and joy that each of us can now have the mind of Christ. “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” II Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)

I worked at the psychiatric hospital for four years until it closed. When I stopped by to take a photo of the campus, there were large “NO TRESPASSING!” signs everywhere. The owner approached me angrily and asked why I was taking a photo. I said I used to work there, and it was for my memory book. He asked which doctor I worked with. After I told him, he grudgingly said, “OK”. So I still don’t have good memories of psychiatric hospitals. Here is the one photo he permitted of the administration building hidden behind the trees.

Psychiatric Hospital where I worked as a Nurse Practitioner 1998-2002
Psychiatric Hospital where I worked as a Nurse Practitioner 1998-2002

If you would like to comment, have a question for me, or a prayer request, please feel free to contact me at pamela.aprn@gmail.com  Keep looking unto Jesus!

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