Volume 36, 2020
Home: Sanctuary, Shelter, and Justice
At Home in a Psychiatric Hospital
People who have mental illness are in particular need of what a home can provide, but they are especially vulnerable to not being in a place with a home-like environment, whether due to homelessness, incarceration, or hospitalization. At any given time, approximately 170,000 people are inpatients in psychiatric units or hospitals (NASMHPD 2017). Psychiatric hospitals are not homes, and they are not designed for long-term stay. The main purpose of the modern psychiatric hospital is to stabilize people in mental health crises, such as those who are psychotic or suicidal; hospitals are best thought of as temporary, transitional dwellings. Even though a person may only reside there for a week or a month, however, it is a crucial period of stabilization and healing. As this paper argues, practices of home-making increase epistemic and moral agency, which enables crisis stabilization, healing, and recovery. This paper examines several functions of home and shows some of the ways that patients in psychiatric hospitals try to replicate these functions in the physical space they have given their many constraints. Because practices of home-making support the goals of hospitalization, the hospital experience should be designed to encourage these practices as much as possible.