The thought of visiting a psychiatric hospital may be an alarming one to many of us, because of the often distorted and misleading picture of the mentally ill projected in books, movies and television shows. Last month, more than 40 students put aside their fears and visited a mental hospital - the Castle Peak Hospital in Tuen Mun. After staying overnight in the hospital and interacting with patients and learning about mental illnesses, the students now hold a different perspective on psychiatric patients. They found it a beneficial, rather than frightening, experience. Although some students were a little hesitant about joining the overnight camp, they were also very curious. A few of the students had expressed interest in the camp as they intend entering the field of medicine as a career. During their two days at the hospital, the group of secondary school and university students took part in various activities. One was a game session in which some patients were blindfolded and the students had to guide them to a destination. Through the game, the students learned how patients were ordinary people and that students were able to relate to the patients. In order to learn more about the patients' routine, and to make the hospital experience more realistic, the students were given hospital gowns to wear during a role-play session. Some students pretended to be patients with conditions such as schizophrenia, while others played the role of the patients' relatives. Through the role play, the students experienced the discrimination psychiatric patients often feel from the public and even their relatives. One unique experience in the camp was the opportunity to speak directly with the patients. The patients were eager to respond to the students' questions, some even asking more questions than the students. The students realised that as a result of being abandoned by their communities, most of the patients they spoke to lacked an education and suffered from low self-esteem. The students heard sad stories about patients being rejected by the public and even their own families. The participants observed that despite such hostility, the patients were more friendly and responsible compared to many people in the outside world who are free of mental illness. To close the camp, there was a 'sharing session' when ex-patients and their relatives spoke to the students about how mental illness had affected their lives and relationships. The ex-patients explained that many of the conditions they suffered were genetic, yet they themselves were often blamed for the ailments. Although patients are discharged from hospital after successful treatment, the ex-patients said they still felt discrimination when they re-joined society. Shaheeda Mohamed and Jennifer Cheung, sixth formers at Diocesan Girls' School, said: 'The camp showed us that we should do more, and that we can play a bigger role in what the hospital is doing.' As a result, about 35 of the 44 participants have signed up to become regular volunteers at Castle Peak Hospital.