After spending eight days receiving care in Mount Carmel Hospital, mental health activist Belle de Jong wrote a viral article for SideStreet shedding some much-needed light on the dire state Malta’s main psychological institution is in.
Despite mounting political promises that Mount Carmel Hospital will undergo radical modernisation, the institution remains a huge point of controversy in the country’s healthcare sphere to this day.
That’s why Belle is now making use of the momentum achieved through her impactful write-up to encourage readers and activists alike to do their part and urge the government to take action.
“I’m overwhelmed by all the support and love I’m receiving. Loads of people approached me to ask how they can help, so I decided to start a petition for the modernisation of psychiatric care in Malta,” Belle told Lovin Malta.
“All I can do is hope that one way or another, this will contribute to positive change”.
Throughout her eight days in Mount Carmel Hospital, 21-year-old Belle experienced two vastly different wards – the General Admission Ward, and Female Ward 1. Despite the fact that the two wards belonged to the same institution, they couldn’t have offered a more different experience.
“The first part of my hospitalisation was at the General Admission Ward, the first place most patients arrive. I had a bed in a dorm with seven other women, and we followed a strict schedule throughout the day,” Belle said.
“The second part of my hospitalisation was in Female Ward 1. Whereas the first ward was pretty pleasant, this one felt more like punishment than support.”
“Loud noises and chaos were all around, which is extremely overwhelming to psychotic and depressed patients. Thankfully, at this point in my hospitalisation I was allowed to go outside with supervision, which was a breath of fresh air. However, being in an environment like that ward did not help me feel better in any way.”
Throughout her description of the premises, Belle consistently compared Mount Carmel Hospital to a prison. After getting a personal glimpse inside the institution, it isn’t too hard to see why.
“The state of the female ward was detrimental. It is a dark, depressing place with chairs lined up against the wall and two televisions blasting programmes. Doors towards other rooms were locked at all times, and slammed shut loudly whenever someone had to pass through,“ Belle said.
“During the day you weren’t allowed in your bedroom, nor could you wander around freely. Treatment is forced upon you and the loud, screeching doorbell was ringing all throughout the day.”
Whilst the hospital’s environment is oftentimes a point of contention, Belle highlighted the downright boring and uninspiring activities that patients are forced to partake in at the hospital.
“I was given a box of old pencils to entertain myself with. Rather than providing patients with daily therapy and soothing activities, we were pretty much left to our own devices and the TV,” Belle continued.
“I was under level 1 security, which means you are supervised at all times… I was exhausted most of the time, partly because of the medication. Whenever I felt like I needed to sleep throughout the day, I wasn’t allowed to rest in bed.”
“I can imagine this is in an attempt to provide patients with a regular structure, but it contributed to feeling very limited in your freedoms.“
If the hospital has one saving grace, however, it all seems to lie in its hardworking staff.
“I am immensely grateful for the amazing care I received. My psychiatrist was extremely capable, and ensured I was on the right medication at all times – but besides medication, there was a lack of treatment,” Belle said.
“I spoke to a psychologist only once, and I wasn’t provided with rehabilitation care – something that would have helped me a lot. I was pretty much left to my own devices after I was released from the hospital, and told to ‘just try continue with your life as usual’.”
Having lived through this experience, Belle called for more funds to be allocated to the hospital’s refurbishment, whilst also highlighting the need for more patient-focused care.
“The world is moving away from taboo-inducing psychiatric hospitals such as Mount Carmel. The horror stories and stigma that are tied to the hospital will be tough to overcome, and the refurbishment would take lots of time and funding,” Belle concluded, while calling for increased funding for the sector.
“Funding a psychiatric inpatient department in Mater Dei and community mental health centres could be a more accessible, affordable, and less terrifying way to tackle this issue.”