The psych ward diaries – How to do activism in an institution

I am currently an inpatient on a psychiatry ward in Canberra. This is not a particularly new experience for me as I have had a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder and other mental health issues since 1995. My current issue is that I have had a series of factors contributing to me developing psychosis and depression. The doctors here have decided to try me on a new medication, which is a sort of last line of defense for treatment-resistant schizophrenia, which sadly mine appears to have become.

My interest is taken by the fact that I am a world-renowned advocate and author essentially living in an institution complete with power imbalances and arbitrary rules. In short the kind of place I tend to decry and criticize as being unhelpful for autistic people. I have been told I will be here for at least three weeks so this is my home for the time being.

As I mentioned, I am no stranger to an institution. In fact in my youth I was a prisoner and recidivist in order to feel controlled and contained. Quite a long way from where I am at now! I pride myself on my independence. Institutions are the enemy of independence to my mind now and I keep as far away from them as I possibly can on most occasions.

This admission is the first one I have had as an advocate. I didn’t think about this until today when I had a bit of a snippy moment with a nurse who I felt was not being as supportive as she maybe should have been. The I realized something significant. I was no longer a disempowered person fitting into a system in order to survive. Far from it! I was a activist finding myself within the belly of the beast so to speak. How on Earth was I going to make this work?

I gave the dilemma some consideration. The first thing I did was apologize to the nurse I had been snippy with. She was busy and overworked and wasn’t even the nurse assigned to me anyway. We got talking about my dilemma as an advocate in a system which is essentially a structure of discipline and something which I have at times viewed as the enemy or at least something very unpleasant and unhelpful.

The nurse and I talked about how my advocacy understanding cou


ld be used in the hospital to make things easier for patients and staff alike. I like that idea although I’m not sure it is the best self care for me to do advocacy when I’m really unwell!


Advocates tend to be people who demand respect and state that people deserve better. However he mental health system does not seem to generate many people like this. Instead it often turns out people filled with self-stigma and a power dynamic which disempowers and robs people of their sense of agency and empowerment. I want to see advocacy in mental health settings generating a huge group of empowered people who question when things are not helpful and who have power and agency in their own lives, Gee if multiple times prisoner recidivism institutionalism Yenn can do it that, I hold very high hopes for everyone else!

We need a lot more advocacy in mental health clinical services, not only to shine a light on poor practices but also to promote understanding between staff and ‘consumers’ (I have that word!!) This can help avoid those awful assumptions and misinterpretations, which so often crop up. It could also build understanding of the experience of ‘patients’ for those staff members who are a bit old school and view any ‘behavior’ as being hostile or difficult rather than just being a means of communicating needs,

4 thoughts on “The psych ward diaries – How to do activism in an institution

  1. I had a terrible experience with mental health in the public system. As I’m a sex abuse survivor, I asked for a female nurse, but they sent a male. I said to them that if they have concerns, they should send a male AND a female nurse and they say, “Okay, you just talk to me and pretend he’s not here.” Then, they can dismiss the male nurse.


  2. I love this, and I’m so impressed with you. I’m currently in a psych ward for the first time, and whilst some of the staff are spectacular, I’ve had so many be dismissive and short, switching my meds by the day and not believing me when I say “But the other nurse changed it”. It’s so hard when you’re already in such a vulnerable position. I hope you’re doing better nowadays. X

    Liked by 1 person

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