Aside from the potential dangers and somewhat shameful entertainment value, a certain type of healthcare professional seems to be attracted to this field. Tragically, its rarely due to a genuine fascination with human behavior, or a desire to help your fellow man. As much as it is for the patients, for staff, a psychiatric unit ends up being a place to hide.
This can occur for many reasons, some as simple as being grossly inept at any other aspect of healthcare. Other reasons tend to stem from the staff themselves being as mentally ill as the patients they care for. Do to the stigma and fear surrounding mental health patients, working on this kind of unit can be the equivalent of living on a desert island.
Another theory, and my personal favorite, is that “crazy” is contagious. If one works in this environment long enough, they just may lose their own grip on reality. Perhaps the constant bombardment of irrational thoughts and perceptions eventually start to penetrate. Some of the more convincing delusional and antisocial patients may start to make sense after spending 8 to 12 of your waking hours with them on a daily basis. Then you can either take a vacation, make an adjustment in your career trajectory, or get a room right next to your new mentor.
Perhaps this is how the more interesting psychiatric patients are born. We tend to wonder “what happened” whenever that patient being rolled in 4 point restraints has an interesting back story. The former college professor, lawyer, or school nurse that is now rambling incoherently and has been deemed unfit for society by the powers that be. What happened? Was it an unimaginable series of stressful or even tragic events? Maybe a genetic predisposition toward mental illness, or did a crazy person sneeze near them on a crowded elevator? Either way, psychiatric patients love to break the mold and emerge from all walks of life. What makes me love them is their ability to throw curve balls at any established theory, at any given time.
For general descriptive purposes, I have lumped all psychiatric patients into two convenient categories, the funny and the disturbing. We’ve all seen the ladder make headlines on CNN, from Jeffrey Dahmer to Ted Bundy. While I have had more than my share of experiences with the disturbing, I prefer to focus on the funny, and sleep better at night. (or during the day, such is the life of an RN)
The funny, of course, is also a matter of opinion. Personally, I have always preferred the patients I find arguing with a coffee mug named Steve, the ones that are compelled to do a cartwheel any time a phone rings, or even the one apprehended after attempting to direct traffic at an intersection dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte.