I have and I suspect it's really not what most people would expect it to be. I went to the Battle Creek VA Hospital seeking psychiatric help for depression in 1992 because I wanted to kill myself. As a veteran I was lucky to have that option. I was so very lucky that they were there when I needed them. Still I had spent my Jr. High school years and 10th grade going to school in Battle Creek and I can well remember the jokes and insults stupid high school students (like me) would speak about the patients there. Of course most of the vets there went there for medical reasons, but the whole facility was somehow "stained" in our eyes because of their extensive mental health program. The truth is that, during those young years, I never thought I'd be in-patient there. However, when the blackness and self-hate and suicidal thoughts washed over me, they were the first place I reached out to, even though I was actually living in Arizona at the time.
Psychiatric hospitals have been presented to us all in such terrifying forms that most people can not conceive of them in any other terms then the deepest, blackest and scariest images. To most people a psychiatric hospital is what Micheal Myers escaped from. They see them as a dungeon like in early films such as "Bedlam", later films such as "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Amadeus". Horror films have shown mental hospitals in such a negative light, that's it's not surprising that they have contributed to the stigma of mental illness and especially to the concept of in-patient care and treatment.
I invite you to think of a mental hospital portrayed in a popular book, movie or television program and to come up with one positive example. Can you think of one example where the hospital was presented as a positive force, rather then as something to be scared of? I can't. In every case that I can think of, in patient mental health care in a hospital has been portrayed as something that, at the very least was a surrender to ones mental illness that brands one with withering shame or (much worse) as a situation that says you are a raving, murdering lunatic that needs to be locked away forever, hidden from "decent" folks who fear you. The vast majority of images of mental hospitals in popular culture, books, films and television, are images to be scared of and terrified of being brushed with the shame of being touched by. If someone tells you that they were a patient in a psychiatric hospital, voluntarily or not, what is the first thought about them that leaps to mind? I would suspect it's fear.
The stigma is such that no one wants to been known as a person who has spent time in a psychiatric hospital because they are afraid that "normal" people will look at them as comic books and movies and TV shows do. As drooling idiots who can't take care of themselves or as mad killers who need to be locked away in massive brick and stone facilities, with security guards that protect everyone from the murderous impulses of those behind those walls.
Of course that's ignorant. Mental hospitals of today are filled with dedicated doctors and nurses and care givers who are determined to overcome the stigma of the past. They know that mental illness is a physical illness and that (for the most part) can be treated the same way, with the same results. They are determined to provide help for the mentally ill who find themselves behind those walls through no fault of there own. 99% of those who find themselves there will be released into society and it's up to society to decide if they'll be accepted or be driven back, via bigotry and ignorance, behind those same walls and bars.
I was a patient in a psychiatric hospital and I say that with no shame at all. While I was in there I met many people who needed to be there, many people who didn't, many people who were (honestly) playing the system to cover themselves and (most of all) many dedicated professional and caring compassionate people who wanted to help all of us as was needed.
When can we (if ever) destroy the horrible, macabre, monstrous, murderous image of psychiatric hospitals as reservoirs and breeding grounds of lunatic mass killers and instead see them as the helping, caring and needed places for those of us with mental illnesses to go for help, stabilization and a safe return to (at least) semi-normal lives?