Romance on the Ward

One should expect romantic relations between patients on the psyche ward to be strictly discouraged by all levels of attending medical staff.  Now, one might say that this is an infringement on a patient’s basic rights to be able to freely interact with whomever however one pleases.  And at first glance, these policies seem quite oppressive, especially when one observes a staff member chastise a psyche patient for merely acting on his/her natural tendencies.  However, when one delves into the issues surrounding patients’ inter-relations a tad deeper, an understanding of the rules and regulations surrounding romances on the psyche ward start to become more pragmatic rather than punitive.

One has to step back and view this topic from a safe detached distance, without the wrenching emotional whirlwind one can be swept up by when experiencing a romantic liaison in an insular environment like a psyche ward.  And, one must always keep in mind just how insular an environment the psyche ward truly is. When a person is receiving in- hospital treatment on such a ward, he/she tends to eat, sleep and breathe the place.  His/Her conscious awareness is restricted to the confines of the ward.  This is done on purpose by the staff so as to protect the patient from being embattled emotionally during therapy by issues of the outside world that may have placed him/her there in the first place.  This, however, can serve as a stumbling block later when the patient is lulled into a false sense of security and cannot bear to expand his/her conscious thought outward to the real world once again.

It is during the experience of a fragile sense of well-being and the artificial belief of one’s security a patient may be inclined to fall into a pseudo-relationship.  This relationship is based on emotional need/dependency and cannot truly fulfill the desires of either participant.  It typically is not able to exist beyond the confines of the psyche ward itself.  The stresses of the world don’t really factor into a relationship developing in a psyche ward due to the fact that they are kept restricted from a patient’s environment.  A person never truly knows what the other person will be like once that place of refuge is taken away.

The artificial environment of the ward can support a relationship of this nature mainly due to the fact that one lives with this person and has twenty-four hour access to them.  In the ward people are more prone to discuss emotional issues and difficulties in his/her life; this gives the patient a false sense of intimacy. Often a patient will be introduced to the other patient’s close family members during visitations, he/she will participate in group therapy sessions in which both patients are present, and the two will share meals and down time with each other. The ward does not allow patients to have intimate relations with one another, so one may carry on a relationship without the physical demands that may be expected of an outside dating experience.  Relationships of this nature are usually condensed into the relatively short span of a hospital stay and steps that take several months in an outside romance are reached in a matter of days on a psyche ward.  These conditions combine to create a pseudo-relationship that gives the patients involved a mistaken belief that they are participating in something with solid emotional foundations.

When one is recuperating in hospital from a serious mental illness it is easy for one to be vulnerable to the machinations of “romance”.  A person in this state tends to have a lowered self esteem and an inhibited ability to discern what is a positive influence in his/her life from a bad.  A person doesn’t truly know the nature of other patients’ illnesses or why a specific person has been admitted to the ward.  A fellow patient may have an illness that he/she may not wish one to know of or have been placed on the ward because of more treacherous reasons. A patient only knows of what is spoken about in group therapy or what that person has decided to divulge to him/her personally.  The medical staff is not legally allowed to warn one if the person one is smitten with is a threat to oneself because they must follow strict guidelines concerning a patient’s privacy.  The staff cannot notify one of any relevant personal information about any other patient.  They may discourage relationships between patients in general, but they cannot specifically voice any warnings containing personal details.

A person truly does not know what sort of situation another patient is coming from when he/she meets him/her in hospital.  The only light one has to see this fellow patient in can only be gleaned from what is presented within the confines of the psyche ward.  A patient is prohibited from viewing this person and his/her nature outside of the ward in the context of his/her home environment.  It is vitally important to have knowledge of how a person relates to the world, his/her home environment (What is his/her home environment?), and others in his/her social realm (Who is in this person’s social circles?). This information can help a person to come to a better estimate of another’s character and send up red flags if he/she is untrustworthy.  However, if these details are withheld from a person, a situation not unlike what typically occurs on the psyche ward, he/she is put at a huge disadvantage in his/her ability to develop a true summation of a person’s moral fiber.

Here is a true life example of a dangerous romantic liaison that took place in an actual psyche ward:

  •  A young woman, 22 years of age, was experiencing her very first hospital stay.  She was suffering from a severe mania added too by crippling family issues.  The hospital misdiagnosed this woman and did not recognize that she was bipolar.  She was given medication for depression, not proper medications for bipolar disorder.  Lonely, confused, and very vulnerable, she met a young man also staying on the ward.  He seemed charming and thoughtful.  He made special efforts to make her smile and paid a great amount of attention to her.  She developed affections for the young man, who seemed the answer to all her troubles.  When the young woman was released from the hospital she left personal information with him in order for him to contact her.  What eventually happened was the young woman moved in with the man.  He convinced her to purchase $4400.00 worth of merchandise on her credit card, claiming he would reimburse her.  She discovered after it was too late that he was a drug dealer and had gotten his 13 year old girlfriend pregnant.  He was admitted to the psyche ward because his lawyer had arranged this instead of him being incarcerated on charges of sex with a minor and miscellaneous drug charges.  The man tried to convince the young woman to travel with him and his friends to a remote region of British Columbia.  What the young woman discovered just in time, was he intended to use her credit card for dishonest purposes and then when she was of no further use, dispose of her.

People recuperate at different speeds and on varied levels.  Everyone admitted to a psyche ward receives individual care based on his/her psychological status. This will change as the person progresses or regresses.  It is important for one to remember that not everyone who may be in-hospital with him/her is at the same point in recovery.  A person may find him/herself to be involved in a relationship in which one or the other may be more advanced in his/her therapy than the other person.  This difference in wellness can cause the one lagging behind to handicap the more advanced person.  The more advanced person may take on the issues of the other and attempt to correct his/her partner’s problems.  He/She may become so involved in his/her partner’s issues that he/she actually begins to regress and stops focusing on his/her own individual therapeutic care.  If the relationship should fail, this could throw a person’s whole therapeutic process into turmoil.  Its hard enough to handle failed relationships on the outside, try to imagine how crushing it must feel to experience this disappointment in an environment in which emotions are highly magnified.

What makes group therapy a constructive tool for in-hospital treatment is the knowledge that a person can discuss his/her issues in a neutral environment.  The patient is able to voice his/her dilemmas to a group of others, who are in similar circumstances and not intimately related to his/her personal issues.  He/She can depend on the others in the group to comment on these problems without the judgments that may arise from people more intimately related to them.  This dynamic can and will change with the introduction of a member of the group who has now become emotionally invested in a relationship with said person.  The person will tend to avoid issues pertaining to marriages or relationships he/she is involved in outside of the hospital, for fear it may hinder or hurt what is blossoming inside the ward.  There may be a ripple effect within the group in response to a romantic liaison between two patients.  Some of the other patients in the group may feel jealousy or resentment towards the “happy” couple.  This may end up stalling any advancement in group or cause negative responses by other patients during the therapeutic process.  Group therapy may be compromised due to the delicate nature of personal and intimate relations causing adverse dynamics in therapeutic group sessions.

If the relationship should go awry during hospitalization it could cause the patient population discomfort and polarization towards one or the other participant in the relationship.  Let’s just put it bluntly, people pick sides.  Besides causing other patients therapy to degenerate if they are placed in the middle of the two.  It becomes a regular soap opera.  Thus, in a place where a patient should be recuperating from the stresses of his/her home environment, new stress is introduced in the one place that should be free of any distraction from therapy.

And, one must also remember that the average psyche ward is not a vast expanse of real-estate.  If the relationship should grow rocky there are very few places one can flee too if he/she wants to ditch his/her new hitch.  A person will have to suffer the harsh reality that he/she will be living, eating, and sharing therapy with that person for the rest of his/her stay in-hospital.  There is also the risk that the person one thought was “the answer to his/her prayers” may be obsessive or down right nasty if the relationship should not progress as both participants had hoped.  Remember where one is, a psyche ward, a place in which the patient population is made up of mentally ill people.  And there one is, stuck in close and constant proximity to an antagonistic fellow patient that he/she must endure until one is released. Not very conducive to emotional healing I might add.

Sometimes very dynamic personalities are committed to the ward who are very alluring, they can make people follow them into any thing.  They sometimes are able to convince other patients to refuse medications and treatments that are necessary for their betterment.  They may cause situations that pit individual patients against each other, or patients against hospital staff. These personalities may exude a tremendous amount of magnetism and appeal.  These characters are dangerous to a vulnerable person in dire need of some attention.  But, what one must always keep in mind is that these people may be experiencing some sort of delusional episode and one should not allow this person to be a domineering influence on his/her thought process.  Many times patients with compelling personalities and flamboyant behaviors are suffering from mania or delusion. They will eventually crash and take everyone around them with them.

What is important to note is that most (and I am not saying all, there are exceptions) romantic relationships that occur between two patients while they are being treated in a psyche ward are doomed to fail once they are released.  Many times the reality of one’s actual home environment and the complicated issues attached to it is too demanding for the other patient to cope with, or vice versa. Suddenly, there are family members to deal with, day to day existence in a huge and constantly stressful world of reality that did not present itself in the ward.  The two are no longer able to cubbyhole their conscious thought into the insular environment of the ward, now the big wide world gapes before them.  And, the issues that sent the two into hospital in the first place will eventually rear their ugly heads, because one does not solve one’s problems in the ward, one only learns techniques to manage them.


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