1. She set herself on fire after losing her baby.
“I have spent time inside a few different psychiatric facilities. I met a lot of interesting folks. Many years ago, there was a lady with horrific burns scars. From her head down her entire body. She was chronically depressed. She was very badly disfigured. She was just the sweetest person ever. Always a kind word for anyone and happy to listen. I bugged one of the nurses to tell me why she was covered in burns. I was told she set herself on fire after losing her baby.”
2. He said he talked to the voices inside his head because they were his only friends.
“When I was doing psych clerkship as a med student, there was a schizophrenic patient with the usual signs: auditory hallucinations, disheveled appearance, no expression on his face.
He admitted to voices talking to him. The resident I was shadowing, asked him what the voices say to him, and he refused to answer that question. Then she informed him that they can give him some medications to make the voices go away, and he immediately rebuked that option (mind you, still displaying no expression on his face the whole time). When the resident asked him ‘Why?,’ he replied, ‘They are my only friends.’
That hit hard.”
3. Kid was completely dissociative. Would randomly just start screaming asking his mother to stop hitting him.
“Kid that was completely dissociative. Would randomly just start screaming asking his mother to stop hitting him. He was pretty low functioning so it was really hard to process. He would look at me and tell me how she beat him with chains and belts. The doctor believed that the young man felt like he was in safe environment for the first time in his life and his mind was allowing him to re-remember past trauma.”
4. She wanted to be a better wife and mother…even though she had no husband or children.
“In a day treatment facility I volunteered for, I led a writing group to help people develop goals and motivation to continue in treatment. One woman gave really strong and compelling answers about wanting to improve her health to be a better wife and mother (have the energy to run around and play with her kids, etc.).
Several weeks after beginning the group, I mention this to another therapist, who informs me this woman has no husband or children, and never has.”
5. Nine-year-old child calmly and purposefully drowned a toddler because the toddler’s mother had refused to allow the nine-year-old to have another lollipop.
“Child psych, acute inpatient.
Nine-year-old child who calmly and purposefully drowned a toddler because the toddler’s mother had refused to allow the nine-year-old to have another lollipop.
There was no spark of anything in that 9-year-old’s eyes. No life, no humanity. It was stark-cold terrifying.”
6. My worst was a 4-year-old with extensive physical and sexual abuse. Social services found her tied to a tree. She did not meet any typical milestones and would grunt to communicate.
“I worked as an RN in an inpatient psych unit. We admitted any age (youngest was 2) and would have some violent individuals with minimal staffing. My worst was a 4-year-old with extensive physical and sexual abuse. Social services found her tied to a tree. She did not meet any typical milestones and would grunt to communicate. I left three times during the admission process to choke back tears. It was the beginning of the end for my career working in psych. I had the thickest skin and could tolerate the toughest of situations. I couldn’t take how an individual could corrupt something so innocent.”
8. At home, he had beat up the family cat to the point of its bones breaking because he liked the sounds the cat made. He had raped a younger sister with some of his toys. He was five.
“I’ve worked at a psych unit for teens/children for a couple years. I think the scariest for me personally was a five-year-old we had. He was well behaved and actually really cute. At home, he had beat up the family cat to the point of its bones breaking because he liked the sounds the cat made. He had raped a younger sister with some of his toys. He is the youngest I’ve ever encountered with sociopathic tendencies :(”
9. He kept babbling in Spanish about demons coming to get him.
“I had a kid once that kept freaking out during the night shift. He was from South America and kept babbling in Spanish about demons coming to get him, and I barely understand Spanish so there wasn’t much I could do to calm him down.
He abruptly stopped screaming and went dead silent with huge eyes… looking directly at something behind me. I turned around and there was nothing there but he kept staring anyway.
I didn’t get much sleep after that shift.”
10. She was so suicidal and distraught that she was biting chunks out of her own shoulder.
“I worked on a juvenile psych unit. I had to put a girl in restraints that included her head because she was so suicidal and distraught that she was biting chunks out of her own shoulder.
Maybe three years later I took a bus to interview for a graduate psych program. When I switched buses, a nicely dressed girl asked me if I was from Colorado. I said ‘yes.’ Then she asked me if I worked on a psych unit. It was her, all better. We chatted for a while and I told her how happy I was to see her doing so well. She smiled, thanked me, and we said our goodbyes.”
11. The look of sheer terror in his face and the shaky voice have stuck with me.
“Young man who was suffering from drug induced psychosis. He had smoked some spice and was taken to out hospital with involuntary status. He stayed for over a month with no signs of remission. He covered the entire spectrum of psychotic behaviors during his stay but the worst was when he would pop into reality for a moment. The look of sheer terror in his face and the shaky voice have stuck with me. His family broke down during visitation and only his father could manage weekly visits afterwards. Chemically induced psychosis, from my experience, is game over most of the time. I’ve seen a few people recover to a degree but never fully. Don’t fuck with spice.”
12. He had in a way started to assume the identity of his little sister and he considered the girls in the pictures he cut out his friends.
“I worked in the dental clinic of a psychiatric hospital for a bit and I’ll never forget a patient named Terry. Terry loved to wear little girls’ clothing and would have pictures of little girls that he had cut out of magazines on a string around his neck. When I first encountered him I automatically made the assumption that he was some sort of pedophile. I later learned from the dentist I had worked with that Terry had witnessed his little sister being brutally raped and murdered by their stepfather when they were children. He had in a way started to assume the identity of his little sister and he considered the girls in the pictures he cut out his friends. I felt horrible for jumping to conclusions, especially after I got to know him more and saw what a gentle, kind soul he was.”
13. The very definition of hell.
“Had a dementia patient, among other things I imagine, but I was just the nursing assistant. I don’t get much for patient histories just whether they can walk unassisted or poo on their own.
She was a very kind sweet old lady. She thought of herself as a young mother, so she carried a doll with her, wrapped in a blanket. She was even allowed a baby bed and every night she would tuck her baby in beside her bed. Then she would talk about the baby growing inside her belly. She would go on very coherently about her pregnancy and her child. She had me believing she lived in this sweet fantasy land that was set on repeat.
But it would all abruptly end and start over once her baby was due and there was no new baby. She would mope for about a month, super depressed, not eating, nonstop crying she could not be consoled, she’d get fairly violent…then it would start over, she’d just wake up one morning and as happy as could be, ‘Did you hear the great news!? I’m going to have another baby!’
One night she got all tucked in and forgot to tuck her baby in. I noticed and said, ‘I can tuck Susan in for the night’ and reached in to get her baby. The woman throat punched me hard. I dropped the baby doll when I fell over gasping for air. She then started to lose it as she was trying to further assault me, yelling at me about driving too fast and destroying everything she loved.
Once the dust settled it was shared with me that she was pregnant once upon a time, and she already had a 1 year old. The husband and the 1 year old got in an accident on the way to the hospital, they both died. She was so distraught over it she gave the newborn up for adoption. That’s why her delusions start over after the due date and she is so mad in between. I imagine some residual guilt/anger for her loss is what cause her to throat punch me for taking her doll.
When I first started working there I just thought she was some fun old delusional lady. I never expected the delusions to have back stories. It’s heartbreaking…Dementia seems horrifying enough when its described as ‘being confused, or losing your mind,’ but it seems so much worse when it’s, ‘repeat your worst life experience over and over until you die.’…To constantly be stuck in the time leading up to your most traumatic experience and reliving it over and over…the very definition of hell in my opinion.”
14. A butt-naked little old lady tried to corner me while swinging a commode at me.
“Not specifically at a psychiatric ward but had a patient at the hospital with severe dementia. I had gotten her up and out of the bed to the bedside commode (bedside toilet) and while trying to get her back in bed she demanded I get my hands off of her, she took a step back away from me, ripped off her gown and was completely naked, grabbed the commode and started attempting to swing it at me while accusing me of making racial slurs towards her. I had to end up calling the charge nurse who proceeded to call security. Well, about a minute later security comes running in the room and busts out laughing as he seems a butt-naked little old lady trying to corner me while swinging a commode at me.”
15. He had been raped by his father and was going to go back to live with him in a camper by the lake.
“I was in a juvenile psych unit. A 16-year-old kid was in for molesting his 3-year-old sister. He was court ordered to be there for a period of time. I found out that he was raped by his father. I asked him where he would be going after release (because he couldn’t go back into his home with his sister). He told me his father had found a camper and put it at a lake and he would be living there until he graduated.
Yes, the same father that raped him.
His head was so fucked.”
16. She witnessed her mother’s brutal murder at age 4…the things she would scream when actively psychotic were truly some of the saddest, most terrible things I have ever heard.
“This schizophrenic woman whose psychosis had the real-life origin of Dexter the TV character.
She witnessed her mother’s brutal murder at age 4 and was not found for almost a week. The things she would scream when actively psychotic were truly some of the saddest, most terrible things I have ever heard.
She could be pretty lucid on good days, and had a real affinity for flowers. One of the things she most liked to do was take a cab to town when all the staff was distracted making lunch, buy a bunch of flowers, take the cab back and waltz back into her suite carrying an insane (literally) amount of daisies and shit. By then we would be frantically looking for her, and suddenly an angry cabby shows up ranting about payment. She was pretty fantastic.”
17. Told us about their marriage with Jesus, how their 250 grandkids are doing, why we were getting fired, and then yelling at themselves for firing us.
“Working at a psychiatric hospital at the moment. Honestly, it depends on the day. What’s interesting to me is how someone is fine the next day but will stand up randomly and shout ‘I need my kitty titties!’ the next. One that was consistently troubled was a patient with hallucinations and schizophrenia. Told us about their marriage with Jesus, how their 250 grandkids are doing, why we were getting fired and then yelling at themselves for firing us.”
18. Had a patient try to cut their tongue out. They almost succeeded.
“Had a patient try to cut their tongue out. They almost succeeded.
Had another patient who cycled through almost 100 foster homes in their youth.
I have seen violence and gore. I’ve seen severe delusions. Worked with refugees. The one that sticks with me the most is the patient who was married to their spouse for over 60 years. The spouse was supportive during all mental health crises. The spouse cheated after 60 years of marriage, leaving the patient homeless and heartbroken.”
19. Totally vacant staring eyes, jaw hanging down with a continuous thread of dribble rolling off his bottom lip.
“Brain damage can be absolutely horrific. Broken humans that don’t work anymore and nobody knows what to do with them.
There was one guy who had brain damage from infant meningitis. The guy is about 40-50 years old now, but he’s exactly like what you might imagine a lobotomized person to look like. Totally vacant staring eyes, jaw hanging down with a continuous thread of dribble rolling off his bottom lip. Arms hanging down by his sides. And all he does is pace up and down whatever room his is in, all day and all night, until he collapses asleep after about 4-5 days sleeps 12 hours, wakes up and resumes pacing.
He wears an adult nappy/diaper because he is totally incontinent, and changing it is remarkably difficult because he won’t stop pacing even while people are trying to clean him up. He cannot eat by himself, he cannot do anything by himself, the only verbal noise/speech he produces is a loud ‘GU-GU-GU-GU-GU-GU-GU-GU’ like a propeller engine starting up.
There’s nothing there in his mind, at all. He’s a husk. He never smiles, never frowns, give no indication of any aspiration or want. That has been his entire life. He has no purpose, has required 24 hour care his entire life, and I don’t think there’s a single person who has ever worked with him that wouldn’t have gladly taken him outside and shot him in the head if they were allowed to.
Anybody opposed to euthanasia hasn’t seen real brain damage. Anyone who can’t understand why doctors give up trying to resuscitate after a certain point where irreversible brain damage has occurred have not seen real brain damage. Anyone upset about the doctors ending Charlie Gard’s life haven’t seen real brain damage. They should transport the guy I described between hospitals to show family members what the doctors are talking about when they say that a person should be allowed to die.”
20. She ate Styrofoam cups, plastic cutlery, plates…etc.
“I did A mental health co-op in high school. I would have to say a tie exists between the two most troubling patients that I encountered while doing my co-op. One was a guy who had Korsakoff syndrome. this guy was completely delusional and dissociated from time and location; he thought at times he was at a bowling alley and at other times he thought he had just gone shopping for shoes. They had to tie him into his chair because he could sometimes become violent. a small percentage of alcoholics get Korsakoff’s. Most of them die before it sets in, but about 2% of all alcoholics will get this disorder.
The other patient was someone with severe brain damage who had to be kept locked naked in a padded cell with access to nothing she could put in her mouth because she would continually try to eat anything. She ate Styrofoam cups, plastic cutlery, plates…etc.
One full moon, and anyone who’s ever worked in a psychiatric facility knows what I’m talking about with full moons, she decided to pluck one of her eyes out with a plastic spoon she palmed from a tray on the way to the bathroom, despite her restraints and that two PRN attendants wheeled her down.
edit: forgot to mention—they found the eyeball in her stomach.”
21. He would mutilate his genitals for sexual pleasure.
“Was a nursing student at the time, and I have been a nurse for years now and this is still by far the most ‘troubled’ patient I have worked with. I was going through my weekly rotation in the psych ward when my instructor assigned me one of the few males that were admitted (I am a male so I often got the male patients). Turned out that this is still, to this day I believe, the only psych patient that have ever been flown in to our facility. He would mutilate himself for sexual pleasure. Of course, it wasn’t the cutting his arm or legs kind of mutilation. He would have to mutilate his genitals for sexual pleasure. The kicker is, this isn’t the first time he has been hospitalized for this. He lost one testicle in the 90s, attempted to cut off the other about ten years ago, and this time he tried taking the whole thing off.
When I asked him why he did it all he gave me the most sane and logical responses. He said he knows it is wrong, he knows he might be one of the only people in the world that has this issue and he realizes that taking away his genitals prevents him from forming lasting relationships. He said that since he is so isolated and there is no other way for him to get sexual gratification, he has to mutilate himself. I honestly felt horrible for him because he said he has been struggling with this since he was a kid. As far as I could tell, he was 100% normal except for the whole mutilation thing.”
22. Had a client shove a metal jagged end of a broomstick that he snapped in half right into his abdomen then start screaming and digging into it with his fingers.
“I worked for a number of years a residential facility, ages 6-106 and have seen it all. Most clients were diagnosed Autism, so you saw the typical self-injury and harmful to others. Most older clients had a mild to moderate disability that today you would just accept as ‘slow,’ but since they had been there for so long, the facility was their home and they didn’t want to go elsewhere. (It’s also really nice, I might add).
BUT…I saw some shit.
Had a client shove a metal jagged end of a broomstick that he snapped in half right into his abdomen then start screaming and digging into it with his fingers.
Had a child, maybe 8 years, who could’ve modeled on the front of a GAP catalog. He could be the nicest, quietest kid, or he could try and cut you with whatever was nearby and tell you that he was there because he cut his family’s dogs paws off. It was in his file. And that was not the only animal.
Another kid, completed his whole program and set to go home. We were all thrilled… he came back the following week because he stripped naked in school and threw a desk at his classmate.
Another child, maybe 6, severely burned by a family member with a blowtorch.
Had a teenage client commit suicide in a horrific manner.
Had an adult client go outside with a bat and smash a co-workers new BMW. I was actually thrilled to see that happen.
Maybe the most troubled were some of the staff, rather than the clients. You had staff who had been there for decades and truly cared about the clients. Then, you had new hires that wouldn’t last more than a year, and although I never saw anything physically abusive, I definitely had to report staff being verbally abusive to clients.”
23. A severe schizophrenic who was usually quiet because he spent 99% of his time being haunted by images of dead people he knew and trying to manage that.
“Guy from what appeared to be a severely repressive rural background who would randomly yell out confessions about his emotions and urges related to pedophilia/bestiality/homosexuality/incest. Would also say ‘Jesus loves you’ whenever you saw him and always had a Bible.
Guy who was usually very sweet, but couldn’t handle stress and would have episodes where he would run and smash his forehead against doors/windows until he literally had goose-eggs you could put golf balls into.
People so paranoid that you could leave a salt-shaker on a table near their room and they would think it was an assassination attempt/conspiracy to defeat them with psychological warfare.
Someone who would spend almost all their time walking in circles screaming at imaginary people. One time I heard him yell: ‘Fire every missile! Blow up the sky! Blow up the sky!’
A middle-aged man who literally had an emotional age of 6 who spent almost all his time annoying staff, throwing literal tantrums, or manipulating people to cause fights.
A severe schizophrenic who was usually quiet because he spent 99% of his time being haunted by images of dead people he knew and trying to manage that.”
24. Every now and then she would get up from the computer and start taking all of her clothes off or smearing her lipstick on her face.
“I was a psych worker at a day program for adolescent outpatients. The city I lived in had a massive shortage of beds in psych units, so we ended up getting a whole lot of kids who really belonged in inpatient care. A couple of the most memorable ones:
One girl was convinced that YouTube was a secret way for the government to communicate with her, and only her. She would open up random videos and start conversing or arguing with them, because she thought she was looking at a live video chat with a government agent. She would scream at other kids if she saw them watching YouTube videos, because she thought it was just for her. Every now and then she would get up from the computer and start taking all of her clothes off or smearing her lipstick on her face. One of those cases that sounds funny on paper, but is absolutely gut-wrenching to watch.
We had a kid who had pretty much been raised in a series of hotel rooms from a young age, because he was so violent that he burned his bridges with every group home, residential placement and appropriate foster home in the city. The final straw came when he was about 8 or 9; out of nowhere, he tried to gouge his foster father’s eyes out while he was driving at highway speeds. After that, they kept him in hotel rooms with a rotating cast of social workers and youth workers to provide 1-to-1 supervision. He was messed up before, but that kind of childhood pretty much did him in.
We had one girl who was trying to manage her depression/anxiety and be a better parent to her 2-year-old. Typical stuff. She’d been with us for a couple of months when out of nowhere, she comes in completely hysterical, screaming that her daughter was found murdered that morning. We freaked out and called up her caseworker, only to find out that there was no kid. Never had been. She’d talked about this kid for months, in great detail, and we’d never thought to report it to her caseworker because we had no reason to doubt she was telling the truth. Next day she came in vacant and dead-pan, and nonchalantly told us that her (fictional, and now dead) kid had been hit by a bus in front her of that morning. Back to the hospital she went.
We had a kid with a double-whammy of fetal alcohol issues and brain damage from a childhood hit-and-run. He lost his ability to ‘hear’ thoughts in his own head, and had absolutely zero impulse control. I don’t mean ‘couldn’t help himself from eating a second cookie.’—I mean zero. Whatever thoughts came into his mind came out of his mouth in real-time. If he saw something he wanted to put in his mouth, it went into his mouth. He once ate all the staples out of a stapler before staff noticed what he was doing. He would pull drinks out of the fridge and dump them over his own head, bash himself in the face with sporting equipment and just drop his pants and pee whenever he felt like it. He had an IQ in the normal range, just a unique form of brain damage. We had to have 2 staff on him at all times, just to keep him from traumatizing the other kids.
I also think it’s worth noting that before I went to work with brain-damaged patients, my boyfriend rode a motorcycle. After I started coming home with work stories, he gave it up. Seriously, people, brain damage is no joke—wear your helmets, fasten your seatbelts, and for the love of God, don’t drive drunk.”
25. He threatened to kill me if I made eye contact with him. He said his (deceased) father was going to help him.
“A young man with a history of poorly managed schizophrenia who also had chronic meth-induced psychosis, or what I heard someone call ‘Methiphrenia.’
Within 10 seconds of meeting me, he had called me (or whoever he thought he was talking to) a bitch, a cunt, a whore, and a slut. He threatened to kill me if I made eye contact with him. He said his (deceased) father was going to help him.
He had done so much damage with his years of meth use, on top of his poorly controlled schizophrenia, that he was incapable of any sort of meaningful interaction with another human being. He couldn’t comprehend a single subject or idea for more than a couple seconds, and it was like he lived in this chaotic world that none of us had access to. He could become physically aggressive at the drop of a hat for no perceived reason, or he could sit in a corner, crying and yelling that he was a good boy and he didn’t need any of ‘this.’ Even the most seasoned staff members wouldn’t enter a room alone with him. He was a court-appointed commitment, as he was far too dangerous to walk the streets and too far gone to take part in any sort of rehab or social program. He was in his early 30s, and it’s likely he’ll be in institutions for the rest of his life, partly because of years of bad decisions, and partly because of the hand he was dealt.
There was this story that I read a long time ago, about a whale that lived in the ocean somewhere, who was born with an inability to make sounds at the frequency that any other whale could understand. This whale just swam around, calling out to others in a way that no one could understand or respond to, alone forever. I always thought of that whale when I worked with this patient, it preserved my patience and empathy for him when he was displaying more negative or aggressive behaviors. That was seriously what it seemed his life was like. He could speak, but nothing made sense, he could hear you, but he wouldn’t respond in any meaningful way. It gives me hope that even after death threats and shows of force, as far gone as he seemed, there were still so many people still trying to help him and find a way to communicate with him. Staff in psych wards/institutions get a bad rap, but honestly, they wouldn’t put up with the kind of stuff they have to for the amount that they get paid if they didn’t feel a calling to be there. And none of them had given up on him. Hopefully someday they’ll find a way to break through, or bring him out.”