• ‘Stacey Dooley: Back on the Psych Ward’ (True Vision East)Source: True Vision East
The British presenter returns to work alongside the staff at one of the country’s busiest psychiatric facilities during the height of the global pandemic.
By
Kate Myers

15 Oct 2021 - 10:19 AM  UPDATED 15 Oct 2021 - 10:19 AM

The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have proved to be as far-reaching as the virus itself and, like the virus, they have disproportionately targeted already vulnerable members of society. For those struggling with their mental health in particular, the isolation created by the lockdowns and social distancing rules designed to protect their physical health have had a devastating effect on their ability to cope, as they have been prevented from accessing much of the support they are usually able to rely on. As British presenter and journalist Stacey Dooley discovers as she heads Back On The Psych Ward, the pandemic has only served to further strain a system already on the brink.

Since Stacey’s last visit to Springfield Hospital, a psychiatric facility in the south of London, demand for mental health interventions has increased exponentially and waiting lists are longer than ever. She is afforded a unique perspective as she is given the opportunity to work alongside the team once again over a six-month period which includes London’s second lockdown, experiencing the additional challenges presented by the pandemic first-hand. From the outset, Stacey is taken aback by the sheer scale of the task facing the nurses and doctors who work around the clock to assist those in crisis, as they find ways to do their job effectively in the context of a ‘new normal’.

During one of her shifts at the hospital, Stacey meets Suziee, a mum and aspiring nurse diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD). The disorder is characterised by mood instability and impulsivity, but can present in a variety of ways, and can lead to suicidal thoughts in some cases. Suziee is a familiar face at the hospital, having been a patient five times previously, but it is her honesty and willingness to share her story that immediately endears her to Stacey.

Suziee, like many of the other patients admitted to these wards, challenges the stereotype of those living with chronic mental illness, but her lived experience is also proof of the unpredictability of these conditions. She is funny, clever and dedicated to her child, but just when she feels she has found some stability, the stumbling blocks of therapy availability, social disadvantage and a global pandemic find a way to take her right back to square one. It’s heartbreaking to watch this vicious cycle unfold, particularly when each discharge is filled with so much positivity and hope of never needing to return.

For 21-year-old Ali, living in the residential unit at the hospital, her obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) has been exacerbated by a world now obsessed with safety, cleanliness and disease, forcing her to seek inpatient care for the disorder she says is ruining her life. Though it has robbed her of so much, Ali is determined to find a way to overcome her OCD, putting herself in situations that terrify her in hopes of conquering her fears.

Stacey’s conversations with Ali, and indeed with all the patients she encounters, are completely devoid of judgement and filled with compassion, but she doesn’t shy away from seeking to discover what living with these conditions is really like. There is no quick fix and, for some, relapse and remission are inevitable and lifelong. Stacey is consistently floored by the bravery of these patients not only in speaking about their conditions, but in continuing to persevere and work towards the possibility of a life free from the torment they bring. 

It’s not just the patients who are dealing with the consequences of COVID’s disruption, with nurses and doctors admitting to feeling burnt out like never before. In many cases, it’s their reasons for choosing this profession that keep them going through the tough times, as they understand the important role they play in helping those going through the lowest times in their lives.

Jack, a mental health nurse, shares with Stacey how his own battle with an eating disorder as a teen and subsequent depression have given him greater empathy for the patients in his care. It’s also given him a deep understanding of how the disruption brought about by COVID has contributed to both the re-admission of previously stable patients and countless new individuals presenting with crippling mental health issues.

For charge nurse Grace, just 24, the incredible responsibility she takes on each and every day, and the confronting nature of her work have meant switching off whenever she can is more important than ever. Whether it’s a brief moment in the car singing to music, or a warming cup of tea in front of the television, as Grace explains to Stacey, the ability to unwind is crucial in allowing her to turn up ready to provide quality care for her patients. As Stacey points out, being a young woman in these situations can’t be easy, especially when the mental health epidemic sweeping the UK, and indeed the world, is largely a problem facing young people just like her.

As Stacey continues to assist the staff and patients at the hospital, getting involved with every part of the process from admission to discharge, the consequences of the pandemic show no signs of abating. Though the world is starting to return to some semblance of normality, for the individuals here, rebuilding their lives with the lingering threat of contracting the virus, and the isolation it brings, is a slow and complex process.

While the doctors and nurses on the front line of the fight against COVID have done incredible work through adversity, for Stacey, the dedicated mental health staff on these wards are the ones who will continue to bear the lasting impact of the pandemic for years to come. 

Stacey Dooley: Back on the Psych Ward premieres at 9.45pm, Tuesday 19 October on SBS VICELAND. (Also catch season 2 of Stacey Dooley Sleeps Over, premiering at 9.45pm, Tuesday 26 October at SBS VICELAND.)

More from The Guide
Bees, cults and country music: October on SBS VICELAND has something for everyone
With a melange of topics, SBS VICELAND covers all bases this October.
‘Our African Roots’ tells of a forgotten part of Australia’s history
Santilla Chingaipe shares the stories of the trailblazing men and women who made big contributions to our history.
A woman’s work: ‘Vikings’ star Alyssa Sutherland on playing a newspaper proprietor in ‘New Gold Mountain’
The actor and model relished exploring obscured Australian history, including the role of entrepreneurial women.
‘Back to the Titanic’ is a literal deep dive into history’s most famous shipwreck
A new expedition into the depths of the North Atlantic shows that the Titanic has yet to give up all her secrets.
Paths cross and lives are changed forever in ‘Saved By A Stranger’
This series tells the stories of ordinary people caught up in the biggest events in living memory and their quest to find the strangers who saved them.
Shape-shifting lizards and death in America’s heartland: ‘The Devil You Know’ is back
The cult at the heart of the latest season of ‘The Devil You Know’ sounds absurd – until you see the bodies left in its wake.
‘Dead Mountain’ reveals the secrets behind Russia’s greatest mystery: what killed nine hikers at Dyatlov Pass?
It’s the real-life mystery that’s haunted Russia for over half a century. Could the deaths of nine experienced hikers in the Dyatlov Pass finally be explained?
'Losing my father is why I want to get the message out': Dr Michael Mosley's own health revolution
Medical journalist Dr Michael Mosley shares his deeply personal reasons for making his latest series, 'Australia's Health Revolution'.
Your favourites are back! These series are returning to SBS On Demand with brand new seasons
If you’ve been craving more episodes from these series, you’ll be glad they’re featured in SBS On Demand’s Returning Series Collection.
‘Endurance: The Hunt For Shackleton’s Ice Ship’ re-enacts one of history’s greatest tales of survival
A recent expedition to find the watery resting place of the Endurance finds modern-day adventurers facing the same challenges as their 20th century counterparts.
Go beyond the mat with ‘Dark Side of the Ring Confidential’
The hit pro-wrestling documentary series returns to unleash deleted scenes, updates and new interviews.