The Quiet Room: An Isolation Room at the Mental Hospital

Where the pain of the mentally ill lives on

The quiet room is an isolation room at the mental hospital. The staff uses it to separate one patient from the rest. The purposes are to keep this person safe, to keep others safe, to reduce the amount of stimulation the patient receives, or at the patient’s request.

They usually use this room as an alternative to or in conjunction with medication. It is a safe environment for this troubled individual. The hospital staff uses a quiet room to manage a patient’s disturbing behavior in the short term.

Because of my bipolar schizoaffective disorder diagnosis, I’ve stayed in the inpatient unit at a psychiatric hospital more than a dozen times. I’ve been in at least four quiet rooms in my life that I can remember. No, it’s not what you think. These weren’t padded rooms. I never wore a straitjacket. I wasn’t sitting and rocking with spittle drooling down my chin while babbling deliriously and incoherently as movies often depict mental patients.

Some padded quiet rooms might still exist in psychiatric hospitals, but I’ve never seen one in real life. None of the quiet rooms I’ve been in match the descriptions of those from insane asylums of long ago.

These seclusion rooms look like any other room in a mental hospital except they don’t have much furniture. There was usually nothing but a mattress or a bed in the room. They didn’t allow me to have anything in my possession except what I was wearing.

The staff kept me in there for an hour, sometimes longer. It was usually because I was acting out. I would shout and scream on the unit bothering others. I don’t remember if I said anything aggressive or hurtful to anyone. Maybe once or twice I cursed at someone. I had to isolate myself because I was disruptive and others couldn’t handle it.

One of the times I was in a quiet room, I had an awful psychotic attack. I thought that I was an abused little girl. It was an odd delusion. It was a combination of false thinking and auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations. But it was so intense that it felt as if a presence lashed out at me. Flashes of shadows and ghostly white figures seized and attacked me.

I remember jumping, shouting, screaming for help. I was hysterical. I don’t know if they gave me anything to calm down. I do remember my husband telling me about it later. He said they informed him of the incident when he arrived for a visit.

I also remember what it was like to be on the other side. I recall trying to cope with psychosis while another patient was misbehaving. There are so many sides to psychosis.

I’ve shed so many tears inside these isolation rooms and so have many others. The voices of patients who suffer fill these rooms. It’s as if during our most painful moments, the walls of the quiet room heard our voices. In a way, these rooms have trapped our voices holding our anguish for us. It is a way that can be freeing, different from how our delusions have trapped us inside our minds.

If these walls of the quiet room could talk, what would they say? What kind of horrors and pain would they share? Would they have figured out a cure by now for my bipolar schizoaffective disorder? Would they have somehow deciphered the code of our mental illnesses after witnessing us in our most agonizing moments? What could we learn from them? We’d be listening to ourselves. What could we learn from ourselves?

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has found that a combination of biological, genetic, environmental, and psychological factors cause mental illness. Research has shown an association between certain genes and gene variations with mental illnesses. So genetics are responsible for a predisposition to a mental disorder. Our genes are to blame.

But really, why should there be blame? Why is it really a sickness? Why am I considered sick all the time while other people are not? What if having this diagnosis just means that I’m a little something special? I’m a little something broken only I can renew. Something I can repair only to break again.

I’ve lost my mind so many times just to come back again and lose it once more. Maybe the last time was really the last time. Who knows? What does this mean? Maybe it just means I’m a little more “this” than you are, or a little more “that” than you are. Like, I might seem a little eccentric at times because of my thoughts and actions. Because, I might see something you don’t or I might think something you won’t.

I think something higher touched me because only 1 in 100 people receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia, which bipolar schizoaffective disorder is on the spectrum of. The universe selected me so someone else wouldn’t have to struggle with this mental illness. It chose me so I could save someone else from this sickness. Maybe that means I’m better equipped to handle such suffering. Maybe it means I’m exceptional because of the disorder. Or maybe it means I’m extraordinary in spite of it.

I often wonder about all the lost voices shouting in every quiet room in every mental hospital around the world. Anyone who’s ever been inside one has left a part of him or herself behind. I believe these walls remember. And if they could tell us what they’ve learned, we could all be wiser.

The quiet room is a place for torment. It is a place to forget yourself. To leave behind the agony because nowhere else is it accepted. The quiet room is a place to leave the darkest part of your soul.

Writer. Artist. Buddhist. Homemaker. I also have Schizoaffective Disorder (Bipolar Type) and Chronic PTSD.

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