Loneliness, boredom and isolation has always been a problem for patients in psychiatric hospitals. We came across many stories and accounts, perhaps best illustrated by the story of the Wasp in a Box from 1911. A patient had a pet wasp. Apparently, it ‘wintered’ in the box and was fed syrup and water. The patient would carry the box in his pocket.
EXPERT INTERVIEW – Neville Sing, Psychiatric Nurse
‘This story of the patient with the pet wasp in a matchbox brought to mind the Birdman of Alcatraz or the prisoner in the film, The Green Mile, who kept a mouse in a box, another matchbox, I think. Two prisoners with precious pets, one mental patient, imprisoned in his illness, perhaps. I imagine his vulnerable self projected onto the wasp to be looked after and cared for. But being imprisoned in a box is not a natural state for the wasp. Unless, being fanciful, the wasp sought out this patient and readily resided in the box. And when the wasp died, did the patient keep it still?
The main feeling I have is of sadness, aloneness. I can imagine the patient having had a bad day on the ward, withdrawing to his bedroom to communicate with the wasp. Two lonely living beings. One of the great American psychiatrists, Harold Searles, who worked with people with schizophrenia, wrote a marvellous book in 1960 called ‘The Non-Human Environment’. Some people with mental illness can relate more intensely to an object or a living thing, prefer non-human contact, and often that isn’t recognised, how important it is.’