From the Mouth of a Psych Nurse-Not All Centers Are The Same

Posted by Heather Valsan on Nov 7, 2017 10:00:00 AM




Have you ever seen something terrifying happen, but out of fear felt paralyzed, stuck, and unable to do anything about it?

For me, the answer is yes, and more than once. You see, in addition to being a writer, I’m also a Registered Nurse for an addiction treatment center. While that might not seem particulary scary, my experience is in Psychiatry, and professionals in this speciality understand that there is always a measure of risk and uncertainty.

Nurses don’t choose to go into psychiatry; I tend to think the profession chooses us. Early on in nursing school, I had a gut feeling that I’d end up working in mental health. True to form, my intuition didn’t lead me astray. After six months on a general surgery floor, I ended up working with patients suffering from severe mental health and addictions disorders.

The unit was divided straight down the middle. One half was designated for patients in an acute mental health crisis, or in layman's terms, “gone off the deep end,” “crazy,” or “lost their marbles.” The other half was for patients in need of detox services from drugs or alcohol, and nine times out of ten underlying mental health disorders were accompanying the addictions.

You know those people that tell you they’ve “seen it all” but deep down you just know that they really haven’t seen or experienced much of anything? Well, Trust me. When I tell you I’ve seen it all in the field of psychiatry, you can take it to the bank.

From hallucinating patients seeing horrifying images of demons and satan, manic patients in three-inch heels running laps around the nurse's station, and suicidal patients stealing cardboard boxes to create makeshift knives to slice open their wrists; my eyes have repeatedly been a witness to the consequences of mental health deterioration.

During my first year working in psychiatry, I began to feel uneasy about things happening at work. Doctors were prescribing medicines but weren’t listening to patient needs. Nurses were stretched too thin and were frustrated by unmanageable and unrealistic expectations. Aids who were employed to be supportive and compassionate were anything but; and carried with them a sense of superiority, expecting patients to follow orders with question.

I was seeing first-hand the ravages of deteriorating mental health, but more disturbing events were happening that didn’t involve patients at all.

Simply put, for every staff member who works in mental health out of genuine compassion and desire to help, there’s another one who couldn't care less. For some, it’s clock-in, clock-out and the eternal quest to “bring home the bacon.”

The truth is, mental health professionals are trained to know how to respond to distressed patients, but knowing doesn’t mean that you’ll understand the dilemma that an addict experiences during every waking moment.

Why am I sharing the unsettling events from my professional career as a psychiatric nurse? I want to provide you with the knowledge that you must have to choose a quality treatment program. Not all mental health and substance abuse treatment centers are the same! Read on to know what to look for:

Best Qualities of an Inpatient Drug or Mental Health Center



Understand the struggle (at the root of any mental health disorder or addiction there’s always immense inner conflict), and you will understand the person.

Most of us have compassion for heroin addicts and the homeless schizophrenic, but kindness doesn’t bring insight into causes of disease. For example, I learned early in my nursing education that biology and childhood trauma have an enormous role to play in someone’s predisposition towards addiction. There is a strong correlation between lifetime substance dependence to individuals that have experienced childhood neglect or abuse.

Additionally, the evidence demonstrates that childhood trauma impedes brain development at the structural and biological level, causing individuals to be more susceptible to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

During your search for an inpatient drug treatment center or mental health facility make sure that the staff has an understanding of the causes of psychiatric illnesses and substance abuse disorders. When caregivers are armed with knowledge surrounding treatment options backed by science and research, you or your loved one will be receiving care from experts that genuinely understand the tribulations that accompany addiction and mental health disorders.

Adequate Staffing

Make sure to ask questions surrounding the patient to staff ratio. You may be surprised to learn that many facilities have only one nurse to an entire floor of twenty to thirty patients. By not providing the appropriate amount of nurses, physicians or support staff, the risk for medical errors increases substantially. Adequate staffing is reflected in the quality of work performed by personnel. Observe the employees closely when you tour facilities. Do they look frantic, disengaged and generally unhappy? This is a telltale sign that that the patient to caregiver ratio is too high. Additionally, when caregivers enjoy their work and feel appreciated by their employers, they are more motivated to give exceptional, compassionate care.

Comprehensive Programming

Determine if the facility you're considering offers a variety of educationally based programs and services that explore the causes of addiction and mental health problems. Years ago, I worked in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and thought of it as a “dumping ground” where people stayed for thirty days, but never actually gained any insight into their illnesses or what they could do to avoid a relapse.

When there are extensive, highly structured activities occurring within a mental health or substance abuse setting, patients are more likely to walk away at the conclusion of treatment feeling like they learned something valuable that they can use for a lifetime. Sitting in a hospital room all day won’t cut it.

People need individual and family counseling, medication management, monitored detoxification (if necessary) and expressive therapies to learn tools for managing mental health and substance abuse disorders.

The most important thing to remember when looking into a treatment center for yourself or for a loved one is to identify a facility that provides individualized treatment programs that examine the root cause of disease.

To heal, one must first understand the biological and psychological origins, and professionals that implement programs based on this principle provide effective treatment that “sticks,” and patients are more likely to feel knowledgeable, prepared and empowered. Understanding, adequate staffing, and comprehensive programming - Find these, and you or your loved one will likely receive treatment that works, and helps for a lifetime.

At Landmark Recovery we believe that not all addiction treatment centers are the same. We understand that every individual struggling with addiction is unique. Programs include individual, group and family therapy and provide insight into causes of disease.  Our addiction treatment center provides comprehensive and holistic care. Give us a call today.

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Topics: Addiction