Safety of female patients in sexually-integrated acute psychiatric wards in Aotearoa New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Social Policy at Massey University, Albany Campus, Auckland, New Zealand
This qualitative study researched the experiences of seven women and one man who have either been admitted to, or worked in, a mixed-sex psychiatric ward in Aotearoa New Zealand. Its purpose was to examine the safety of female patients in sexually-integrated acute psychiatric wards. There is only a small amount of international literature on this subject and even less from Aotearoa New Zealand. This research gives the women ex-patients involved in the study a voice. As mental health workers, the nurses provide a perspective from the 'other side' which also paints a strong picture of life for women patients in a mixed-sex psychiatric ward. Only one of the ex-patient participants had experienced both a single-sex and a mixed-sex ward and was able to make a comparison between the two All ex-patient participants would have preferred a single-sex ward and spoke of events ranging from 'feeling uncomfortable' to being physically attacked by men in a mixed-sex ward. Several referred to the lack of privacy in sharing facilities with men. The treatment of female patients by some male staff was also seen as a problem by both ex-patients and staff participants. The nurses and patients recount a number of stories in which female patients were raped, intimidated or had their privacy invaded by men on the ward. This research comes to focus on the fact that women patients in mixed-sex psychiatric wards are often not believed when they complain of being sexually/physically assaulted or harassed by men on the ward. I analyse this assertion from a feminist perspective and propose that at times, a gender bias operates which favours the claims of male patients over female patients I conclude that sexually-integrated acute psychiatric wards are not necessarily a safe environment for female patients and suggest a physical (structural) change may be all that is required to ensure greater comfort and safety of female patients in psychiatric wards.