Working in a Mental Hospital

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Most people hope to never step foot into a mental hospital, much less spend their summers in one. But for me, the opportunity to volunteer in a Chinese mental hospital was one I seized upon with interest (and only slight trepidation). I’m glad I did so. My two weeks at the Xi’an Mental Hospital’s children’s unit summer of my sophomore year has become much more than a simple internship; it has become a pivotal experience that has shaped my perspective and future aims.

As expected, work at the hospital was sobering, and at times, disconcerting. The children had serious mental illnesses; some stared at nothing and mumbled, some had to be forcefully restrained when they erupted into violent fits. The staff didn’t shield me from the reality of the situation, but I didn’t want them to. Seeing these kids didn’t make me afraid; they made me want to help. I volunteered to assist in running “activity time” in the mornings and afternoons, where I’d supervise the children in structured recreation– coloring, yoga, social games like charades and musical chairs, and the occasional outside excursion. Most kids, despite their diagnoses, were bright and vivacious. Once they overcame their initial wariness of another white-coated doctor, they...

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