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WOMENS WORDS

The Living Hell of a Mixed Sex Psychiatric Unit

I was just 18 when I was admitted to a psychiatric unit. As I was 18 it meant I was in an adult unit, I was the youngest in there and the younger ones were mostly women. Men outnumbered women and the men must’ve been 50 years old plus.


The unit had separate male and female dormitories. The waking day was spent in the mixed part of the unit, where the lounge, living room, dining room and therapy room were. I was the only one in a wheelchair but there were women with learning difficulties and women who had had male induced traumas. I was one of those women.


I was admitted to the unit after struggling with an eating disorder, self harm, obsessions, compulsions and suicidal thoughts. These issues were compounded by PTSD triggered by male induced sexual trauma.


I was scared as soon as I set foot on the ward because I was surrounded by men. I am in a wheelchair so it is significantly harder to defend myself; I cannot run away, I am defenceless. The men were 6ft plus and stocky. They themselves were unwell and threatening. What went on every day will stay with me forever. What was going on daily was; men would come up behind us and touch our necks, kiss our necks, touch our breasts and further below, attempt to kiss us on the mouth and were generally in our personal space at every opportunity.


That’s what I experienced and what I saw happen to others, though it seemed to happen to me an awful lot – maybe because I was an easy target. I can only dread what went on that I did not see. As the same-sex parts of the unit were only for sleeping, there was no escape in the daytime. It was a living hell. As someone with PTSD I was already on guard, but this made it 10 times worse.


At first, I complained to the staff about the attention I was receiving, along with a number of the younger women. Our cries for help fell on deaf ears. When we complained to the staff (about 60/40 female/male split) we were told to stop attracting the men’s attention, stop complaining, ignore the men. Or we were just completely ignored by the staff.


If we attempted to defend ourselves against the men, we were punished, sometimes restrained, I was restrained a number of times. Due to my past, I often freak out when a man approaches me suddenly from behind and starts touching me. This includes both patients and staff. The staff knew of my past but didn’t seem to think it was triggering and more detrimental to me to be put in these situations.


After realising we weren’t being taken seriously, the older women started to defend the younger women, including me, from some of those men who were the most abusive to the women. The fear of facing every day in the unit was unbearable. I was already traumatised before going in there and everyday I lived in there on the edge. I thought the unit was a place of safety and a place where I would be helped to start to recover. Instead, it was a place where I would become further traumatised.


I was fortunate in that men and women were not mixed at night. Now, however, we know that men who identify as female are placed in women’s dormitories overnight on psychiatric wards thanks to Annex B.


I do not think there should be mixing of sexes at any time of the day in psychiatric units. I came out of my experience a changed person. I no longer trust people in authority to keep me safe and for a few years I was completely lost and engaged in the most risky behaviour. It could’ve ended very differently for me.


Thankfully, I am mentally well the majority of the time. However, I feel extremely sad and concerned for the women in mixed sex psychiatric units. Sex matters.


My experience continues to haunt me. I want this madness to stop for women’s safety and future mental health.




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