Last night I watched "Girl, Interrupted." I've seen it before. I'm not sure what made me want to see it again. If you haven't seen it, you should.
Whoopie Goldberg plays a wonderful nurse is a psychiatric hospital and at one point she tells a patient she needs to get things out, put it down somehow, put it away from her, where she can't keep curling up with it. That makes so much sense to me. She also tells a patient, in a very dark moment, "Don't drop anchor here." And I get that, too.
The movie takes place in the 60's and psych wards in the 60's were very different than they are now. People stayed in the hospital for a long, long time. Partly that was due to less effective medications, I think, and partly because we didn't have managed care then and people could actually afford long-term treatment. I definitely don't think spending months upon months in psych wards is helpful, at least not for most people, and I'm all in favor of community-based care. I wish there was more, and better, care available in most communities, but I'm all in favor of community-based care.
Twenty years ago, well, more like 25 years ago (gosh, I feel old now), psych wards were not like they were in the 60's, not like in this movie, but they were different than they are now. Back when I first started being admitted to psych wards, a typical length of stay was about two weeks, maybe three. These days, it's unusual if they keep you more than a week.
They had more treatment in the psych wards back then and more activities. The last time I was in the hospital, in 2013, they had two or three groups a day and they were stupid groups. It was the same the time before that, in a different hospital, in 2006. But they used to have four or five or six groups or activities a day, group therapy, art therapy, some sort of fitness, relaxation training or meditation, arts and crafts, movies, bingo (OK, I didn't say it was all exciting). One hospital had a plant therapy group once a week. You got to plant things. You got to decorate the pot and take home a plant. Ceramics, yoga, music therapy. One hospital had this thing one day a month where the patients cooked lunch. We made Chinese food when I was there.
There is a scene in the movie where the patients are taken on an outing for ice cream. I've been on a couple of those patient outings. One for ice cream, even. And one to play miniature golf.
There was a feeling of safety there for me. Which seems a bit odd, considering how terrified I am of the very idea of going to a hospital now. In fact, last night I had a nightmare about being admitted to a psych ward. Watching that movie probably triggered it. But there was a time when it felt safe. And I can certainly see how it would have felt that way in the 60's, when people were going to war and dying.