In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, IrishCentral is this week highlighting various groups and individuals doing extraordinary work in Ireland and Irish America, ending stigma and offering crucial help and resources.

Today we hear the tale of a woman with bipolar disorder about life inside a mental hospital. 

A young Irish woman has revealed what really goes on behind the closed doors of a mental hospital. She says the reality is far different from the “scary” facilities portrayed in horror films.

The 20-year-old patient, who has bipolar disorder and is known only by her first name, Naomi, told that instead of padded rooms, straitjackets and syringes she found a convivial atmosphere and fellow patients playing Monopoly, watching the soaps on TV and chatting over a cup of tea.'

She said: “It was a lovely ward, with pictures all over the walls. There was a beautiful garden and wonderful people.

Read more: How to support the mental health and well-being of Irish children

“Surprisingly, we didn’t spend our days in straitjackets - we spent our days cheering each other up, dancing around to the radio and giving each other glamorous makeovers.

“I had so many good times, which I never expected.”

Naomi, who was experiencing hallucinations and hearing voices, was admitted to the hospital in June 2015 by her psychiatrist who feared Naomi posed a danger to herself, reports the Daily Mail.

She was having a severe manic episode and acting erratically, spending large quantities of money on “unnecessary things” and drinking alcohol to “self-medicate.” She said she "no concept of reality" at the time.

Previously, Naomi had been diagnosed with cyclothymia, a mental state characterized by moods that swing between depression and elation.

“It was the day before I was due to sit my last A-Level exam,” she said.

“Stressful enough as it is – not to mention the fact on top of the stress over my studies I was also suffering from a horrendous bowel disease, mood swings so extreme that they were ruining my life and hearing voices in my head on a daily basis.

Read more: Mental health resources in Ireland and the US

“That day was my tipping point.

“Then came the words I’d been dreading hearing: ‘I’m sorry, but we’ve been left with no choice – we are going to have to admit you to a mental health unit.’

“I was a danger to myself.”

She said she was overcome with emotion when she arrived at the hospital.

“I was crying uncontrollably and I had feelings that I was crazy,” said Naomi.

She spent six weeks inside the unisex facility, where she shared a room with a woman in her mid-forties.

Although her roommate was angry at first about sharing a room with someone so young, the pair eventually became very close.

Naomi said she followed a set routine during her stay at the facility and was encouraged to engage in “calming” activities such as playing board games and making crafts.

She was put on Abilify, an anti-psychotic drug, but she said it wasn’t just the medication but also the other patients who helped her.

“What surprised me was how supportive the patients were of each other,” she said.

“We laughed together but also were there to console and cheer up anyone who was down or crying.

“I received some much-needed comfort and cuddles when I was at my lowest.”

She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder towards the end of her stay and put on a new medication. She was released to go home once her doctor gave her the all-clear.

Summing up her experience, Naomi said: “I owe so much to that hospital – it was a safe haven for me. They helped me realize I wasn’t crazy, just unwell.

“But most of all they showed me not to believe everything you see on TV – mental health units are not something to be feared – they are there to change lives like mine for the better.”

What do you think of the mental health awareness and support available in Ireland and in the US? Leave us your thoughts in the comments section, below.