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The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly [Hardcover]

Dennis O'Donnell
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
Price: 16.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

5 Jan 2012

In 2000 Dennis O'Donnell was approached to work as an orderly in the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit of a large hospital in central Scotland. 'I don't know if I'm the man you want,' he told the Charge Nurse. 'I'm not a fighter.'

'I don't need fighters,' the Nurse replied. 'I need people who can listen.'

The Locked Ward is an extraordinary memoir that sets out to reveal the true story of life in a psychiatric ward - the fear, the violence and despair, and also the care and the compassion. Recounting the stories of the patients he worked with, and those of the friends he made on the ward, O'Donnell provides a detailed account of day-to-day life behind the doors of the most feared and stigmatised environment in healthcare. In doing so, he examines the major mental disorders, their symptoms and manifestations, and how certain triggers such as religion, sex, wealth, health and drugs bear influence; the methods of treatment, by medication, therapy and conversation; the love and support of patients' friends and family members; success stories and failures, and attitudes to psychiatric illness, both by the authorities, by those around him - and his own.

Over seven years O'Donnell witnessed the day-to-day lives of people suffering from the most hair-raising illnesses. What emerges is a document of humanity and humour, a remarkable memoir that sheds light on a world that still remains largely unknown.


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The Locked Ward: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Orderly + The Quiet Room: A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness + Sectioned: A Life Interrupted
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (5 Jan 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224093606
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224093606
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 326,660 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dennis O'Donnell was born in Bathgate, West Lothian in 1951. He still lives in the West Lothian hinterland. He is very married - in fact, since 1972. He has one daughter and two grand-daughters.
He has been a teacher, a joiner's labourer and, in his youth, a chicken catcher. Nowadays he's too old to catch chickens and too wise to be a teacher. He has also been a columnist for The Scotsman. He is now writing full time.
'The Locked Ward', published by Jonathan Cape, is a memoir of his time as an orderly in a secure psychiatric unit. His detective novels, 'Dangerous Conceits'; 'Night's Black Agents'; The Thoughts of Love'; 'When Madmen Lead the Blind', and 'Bottled Spider' are available on Amazon/Kindle. You can also read 'I Am the Egg Man', the story of a 17 year old in 1968 who finds that he's outgrown his life.
He has had two collections of poetry published by Curly Snake Press - Two Clocks Ticking (Winner of the Saltire First Book Award 1997) and Smoke & Mirrors (2003).

Product Description

Review

"I really enjoyed The Locked Ward. He is compassionate without any taint of sentimentality, and the way he uses language is so elastic. It's like he's the most brilliant court-jester in the most colourful of courts. Bravo to him!" (Gabriel Weston, author of Direct Red)

Book Description

An extraordinary account of life behind the locked doors of a secure psychiatric ward.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A touch of madness 25 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dennis O'Donnell has hit upon a winner with this book, his memoir of seven years spent as a psychiatric orderly in central Scotland. Overall I think the book is superb. I found it intelligent, fluent and easy to read. O'Donnell is articulate (he has a degree in English) but also deeply compassionate, and writes with sensitivity about patients he clearly cared very much about. He also displays a sharp eye for the farcical when the occasion calls. For this reason the book is profoundly moving and laugh-out-loud funny by turns, though the humour is not cruel and the jokes are at no-one's expense so much as his own.
I think the book succeeds at all its tasks: it portrays the patients as humans, with their frailties and their strengths; it demystifies psychiatric illness effectively, and educates the reader in the basics of neurosis, psychosis and therapeutic strategies without condescension. And, as any memoir should, it gives great insight into the character of O'Donnell himself, since we see all the events through his particular lens.
If I could change just one thing, it would be to tone down the use of central Scotland vernacular. The book deserves a very wide readership, but non-Scottish readers may be perplexed by occasional unfamiliar expressions. That aside, the book is a triumph. I am really looking forward to his next one.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Courage and humour 24 April 2012
Format:Hardcover
O'Donnell writes frankly, humourously and courageously. He encapsulates characters and situations. He confronts topics directly and with sincerity. It is a great read and great insight. It genuinely made me laugh, squirm and cry.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Read 28 Jan 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Having worked as a charge nurse in a locked ward I found the caring stories so reflective of where I worked. The people and the illness are the same wherever you are
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class Reading 18 Feb 2012
By MsMoose
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I am only half way through this book so far and Dennis O'Donnell has really captivated what life is like in a mental health ward. A true account from a mental health nurses point of view, this book will make an interesting read for anyone with a genuine interest in mental health.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
This is an autobiographical account of life on a psychiatric ward, written by a Scottish nursing assistant and literature buff, who moved from caring for dementia patients onto Ward 25 of his local hospital after a little persuasion from his friend Charlie, the charge nurse for the Intensive Psychiatric Care Unit. He worked there for over seven years and wrote this book partly as a means of fighting the ignorance and fear that still surrounds mental illness for many people. As he writes in his introduction:

"I hope it will inform people about the nature of serious mental illness and how it is treated. I hope it will correct misconceptions, and show that people with serious mental illness can say or do funny things, sad things or bad things; be brave, resolute, irritating, selfish, generous, kind, cruel or petty just like everybody else. Mainly, though, I want it to celebrate a group of people who are misunderstood, mistrusted or viewed with apprehension - the patients."

I am a pretty devoted reader of anything to do with mental health problems, partially due to my own experiences and partially thanks to my interest in the social sciences generally, so this was a must-read for me. While there are many memoirs out there about the experience of depression, schizophrenia, addiction and any number of other issues, it's unusual to find a memoir by someone caring for those people in a professional sense.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars sign of the times 10 Feb 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
its really a sign of the times when dennis describes smoking at the nurses station , i remember those days . its a very good insight into the past in a locked ward , but thats what it is ,the past. i fear for someone not "in the trade" reading this book and imagining its like that nowadays. its very much historical anecdote and as that was very entertaining to read having some knowledge of the content.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars gold star 3 Feb 2012
By chaze
Format:Hardcover
As a former teacher, Dennis deserves 10 out of 10 and a gold star for his book. As they say 'I laughed, I cried (almost)' but I was moved by the plight and the suffering of poor, sad, ordinary people who were often the victims of others. This book gives an amazing and often frightening insight into what can go on in such a ward. It is also educational giving the reader information and advice otherwise not generally available. Dennis's warmth, humanity and humour shine through even the grimmest events. Well done, that man.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
A friend who told me The Locked Ward was the best book they had read in years recommended this to me. I was sceptical at first, as I previously had no particular awareness or interest in psychiatric care or mental health issues and thought that it would be a book for those in the profession.

I quickly found that inside knowledge was not necessary and that it was actually a compassionate but very humorous read about folk; those who care and those who are cared for, some who are mad and some less so. The author provides insightful accounts of patients and their treatments as well as detailing some of their relationships with the nursing staff, making you realise that the kind of care that the author and his colleagues provide is very special indeed.

The book does take you through all the emotions. You do laugh, very hard at places, but you are most definitely not laughing at or conspiring against the patients. You may also shed a tear in sadness or anger, but the author does attempt to explain why the patients are how they are and intersperses the anecdotes with explanations of the different illnesses and psychoses which helps to provide a context to the patients' stories.

At the end of the memoir, I felt the common satisfaction derived from a thoroughly enjoyable read but also, and without trying to make it sound like a textbook, educated. Educated in the sense that it helped me overcome my own ignorance and in some cases prejudices about mental illness.

Although, I am sure this book will be pigeon holed in the health and/or biography sections of bookshops and Amazon, it is much more than that. I am now in agreement with my friend and can safely say this is the best book I've read in years.

I am eagerly anticipating a follow up by Dennis O'Donnell and surely a memoir of his teaching career is the obvious follow up.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars One for the charity shop
Having spent 15 years as a psychiatric nurse i found the authors smug and self congratulatory tone jarring. Read more
Published 1 month ago by malgorzata radecka
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, touching, insightful, and witty
I have read many psychological memoirs, but have not yet enjoyed one as much as this. Touching, insightful, and interesting, but met with bucket loads of wit and charm. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Ms H
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This book is really gripping and I thoroughly enjoyed it. A real page turner, the characters came to life, and they were treated sympathetically by the author. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern psychiatric care from the front line - a very good book
I really enjoyed the book! It took a while to get into, but once I was in I wanted to read it continuously! Read more
Published 3 months ago by London_nurse
2.0 out of 5 stars left a bad taste
I bought this as a gift for someone whose mother has been sectioned a few times. I was hoping it would debunk the myth of One Flew Over a Cuckoo's Nest, offer some comfort that... Read more
Published 6 months ago by customer
5.0 out of 5 stars incredibly funny
The author of this book, Dennis O`Donnell, is a former hippie, an English graduate, a short, balding man. Not a fighter, as he says about himself. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Ray Garraty
5.0 out of 5 stars A Visit Worth Making
Dennis O'Donnell writes with insight, humanity and compassion about those who suffer mental illness and about those who care for them. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Charles McAteer
5.0 out of 5 stars Stories of humanity, told with sometimes literary prose
Fascinating book about the life of an orderly in the locked ward. Stories of humanity and also the edges of sanity, how we could all easily end up on the spectrum of what is... Read more
Published 7 months ago by J.F.Penn
3.0 out of 5 stars A whiff of the familiarity
In the tradition of confidentiality, I won't reveal the identities contained within this book. The psychiatric community is a small one and although I have never worked in this... Read more
Published 9 months ago by bdm82
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
Good insight into life on a psychiatric ward without being voyeuristic or overtly clinical. The patter was absolutely brilliant, well observed and moved me to tears - of... Read more
Published 10 months ago by H
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