The Case Against Mixed Wards

Psychiatric hospitals are changing.  Across the country mixed wards are being abolished.  Male and female patients are being segregated and it is a move I wholeheartedly approve of.  Recently, a former nurse told me that, in his opinion, this was a retrograde step.  ‘How can people survive in the community if they don’t learn to communicate with the opposite sex?’  I have some sympathy with this view but I believe that the protection of female psychiatric patients, many of whom have experienced sexual abuse and domestic violence, should take precedence over any attempt to help their male counterparts integrate with women.

I have been inpatient on mixed wards on numerous occasions and, while I made some lifelong male friends, almost every admission was tainted by abusive behaviour directed towards me by some (admittedly a minority)  of the men on these wards. Maybe my experience is unique but I have observed that misogyny among male psychiatric patients is prevalent.  I remember what the nurse had told me on my first admission to a mixed ward when she was helping me unpack: ‘It’s probably best to avoid wearing this kind of stuff on the ward.  It could be construed as inappropriate. There are men here, you know.’ It was then that I decided that this was indeed the land that feminism forgot.

I remember sitting in the dayroom, trying to read while a middle aged male patient sat opposite me  mouth wide open, eyes tight shut, hands down  his own trousers, clasping his erection.  He was masturbating. I felt nausea rising.  I went to find a member of staff.  I received little sympathy from the temporary charge nurse I eventually found.  ‘Oh, him,’ he said when I described what I had seen. He spoke in a flat voice that betrayed his indifference.  

‘But he’s doing, um well, things he should be doing in private.’

‘He does that all the time.  Just leave the room if he starts.’

‘What’s he doing on a mixed ward then?’

The Charge Nurse shrugged.  ‘Nowhere else to put him, I s’pose.  You may have noticed that we’re a little short staffed.’  He stared at me as if he thought I was responsible for this state of affairs.

He turned his back on me, shuffling some papers on the desk.  ‘Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve things to do.’  Our conversation was over.

One day when I was walking down the corridor, heading back to my dormitory a male patient confronted me.  He pushed me up against the wall.  Another male patient who had been following close behind intervened.  He elbowed the other patient out of the way and stood between us. They snarled and spat and swore at one another.  I reported the incident but no action was taken.

When I reported such incidents to the nurses they formed a solid wall against me.  Impenetrable as concrete.  They made it clear that they thought I was a ‘time-waster’. ‘Manipulative’ was the word they used to describe me. ‘Do you enjoy having men fight over you?’ one asked. Eventually the medication flowing through my veins rendered me incapable of protest.  I may as well have been bound and gagged. Sexual harassment on the wards was condoned.  The victims were punished and the perpetrators were exonerated but finally, after decades of indifference and victim blaming the problem is, in part, being addressed. Mixed wards put female patients at risk.  Single sex wards, far from being a retrograde step, are a tacit admission that even female psychiatric patients deserve dignity and respect.  This move has come too late for me but it may prevent other women from having to go through what I did and for that, at least, I am grateful.


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One Response to “The Case Against Mixed Wards”

  1. bippidee Says:

    Hi there,
    I agree completely with you. I didn’t have any particular bad experiences on my last stay on a mixed ward, but saw a lot of flirting going on between patients, which in one case resulted in them meeting up once they’d been discharged. I doubt either of them would have been attracted to each other at a time when they were well.
    However, when I was 18 I spent a month on a mixed ward where I frequently felt threatened by the older men around me. It’s not nice to share toilets with a man who is drugged up and playing with himself in front of you, or to have to walk past a man who is exposing himself when all you want is to make a cup of coffee.
    It’s not just the men though. On my last stay, a distressed woman frequently assaulted male patients, accusing them of making her pregnant. She was in her sixties. The nurses laughed it off but i know it made one man very uncomfortable.


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