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On the Wards – (Child) Psychiatry

I stood at the end of the hallway looking out through the large windows. Outside the sky was gray, the blacktop was damp, and the trees were dripping. It was a stark contrast to the interior. Here, where I stood, the walls were brightly colored, cartoonish faces squinted, frowned, and smiled, and random quotes encouraged readers to share and play nice.

Less than ten feet away from me a doctor was interviewing a patient. I’m not sure how the interview went. I wasn’t paying too much attention. I knew of this patient, though. The young pre-teen had been admitted because she had reported thoughts of killing herself. One might think that this bit of information might be betraying the patient’s identity. But sadly, many of the patients I have been seeing in the child psychiatry unit have/had suicidal ideations.

In a place like this, the patient population seems to have more in common with the dreary weather outside than the bright, cheerful surroundings inside. I’ve spent three days on the unit, and it has been — well, shocking. I have found it all quite interesting. I will definitely not cross Psychiatry off my “list.” But if I had to describe what I’ve seen in one word, that word would be “sad.”

When people hear that I am spending time in the Child Psychiatry unit, I often get asked if the patients look different. Maybe they think these patients have “crazy eyes” or some other telltale sign of craziness. If there are, then I certainly don’t know what the signs are. But to me, these patients look like any other child you might find playing in a schoolyard playground. Except that a number of them are very depressed. And they look sad. But if they were happy, I could picture them laughing and hanging from a jungle gym set or fast and high on a swing set. My point is that visually, these kids wouldn’t stand out if you put them in a lineup with other children.

Abuse is common, though. So are hallucinations — if I can call them that. I’m not sure what the doctors are calling them, but a number of the kids report seeing or hearing things others don’t see or hear. I guess the staff will need to determine if they are truly hallucinations. One patient sees demons at night. Another sees ghosts without any limbs. Others hear voices that tell them to hurt themselves or other people.

When I found out I had been assigned to psychiatry, I thought it would be really fun. I imagined having adult patients telling me outlandish stories that would make me laugh. Then I found out I was assigned to Child Psych. Most of the patients I’ve seen here have made me cringe. Their stories are heart wrenching. It was shocking for me to see some of the things I saw. And as far as the cases of abuse, I wondered, what kind of society do we live in that produces children so mentally damaged by physical, sexual, and emotional abuse?

I have about a week and a half left in Child Psych. I’m sure it’ll be memorable.

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  • Kris

    Out of curiosity, what kind of specific psychological diagnoses did some of these children evaluated for?

  • Kris

    Out of curiosity, what kind of specific psychological diagnoses did some of these children evaluated for?

  • http://www.JeffreyMD.com/ Jeff W

    Well a number of patients, their primary concern was that they were a danger to self or others. Quite a few were hospitalized because they had suicidal thoughts. A number were depressed. And I often heard the docs trying to figure out whether or not a certain patient had post-traumatic stress disorder (usually as a result of being abused).

    I think almost half of the kids on the unit, if you ask them why they are there, would say they are there because of anger problems. They are there to learn how to control their anger because they can get violent when provoked. The term for this was IED, which I found amusing. In the psychiatric sense, IED stands for “intermittent explosive disorder” rather than “improvised explosive device” as we often hear of in the news.

  • http://www.JeffreyMD.com Jeff W

    Well a number of patients, their primary concern was that they were a danger to self or others. Quite a few were hospitalized because they had suicidal thoughts. A number were depressed. And I often heard the docs trying to figure out whether or not a certain patient had post-traumatic stress disorder (usually as a result of being abused).

    I think almost half of the kids on the unit, if you ask them why they are there, would say they are there because of anger problems. They are there to learn how to control their anger because they can get violent when provoked. The term for this was IED, which I found amusing. In the psychiatric sense, IED stands for “intermittent explosive disorder” rather than “improvised explosive device” as we often hear of in the news.