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Psychiatric Hospitalization and What it is Like

(Content warning: This article briefly mentions suicide.)
Written by Fia, Medical Consultant for Somnova Studios

As someone who has been hospitalized three times as well as worked in an inpatient unit for people with developmental disabilities at one point, I felt like I would be the best to talk about psychiatric hospitalization and what it is like. There are a lot of myths surrounding psychiatric hospitalization and I want to give a more realistic view of what it is like. I won’t deny that being hospitalized isn’t a fun experience, but if there is anything I would like people to take away from this article is that psych wards are more boring than scary. 

You can be hospitalized either voluntarily or involuntarily. With a voluntary hold, you can technically leave at any time as long as you can prove you are not a danger to yourself or others. Even if you decide to leave, the process of getting you discharged can take a couple days. With involuntary holds, you can only be held there usually for up to three days unless there is a court order to hold you longer. People are often afraid of being involuntarily committed, but this is usually done only if there is imminent danger. Usually the people I have known that have experienced involuntary admission were people who survived a really bad suicide attempt but even then, they usually give you the option to commit yourself voluntarily which is better because sometimes if you are involuntarily committed it shows up on court records. To get admitted, you are usually taken to an emergency room and you are asked questions to determine if hospitalization is right for you and which place is best suited for you. The process can take several hours and sometimes if there are no beds available and it is determined that you really need it, you are often transported to a psychiatric hospital, typically in another city. 

Another thing I would like people to take away from this is that people have many more rights when they are in a psychiatric hospital than they realize. It may seem like you don’t have a lot of rights because there are so many things that are not allowed and lots of rules to follow. I was often confined to a locked unit and not allowed to go outside, but you may not be. Recipient rights vary by state and country, but usually they are required by law to give you information about your rights during admission. For example, in my state you actually have the right to refuse medication or go to therapy sessions at any time and nobody can force you to take medication unless there is a court order, which also includes sedatives. Each time I was there, they had me sign forms during admission to give them permission to use sedatives like Ativan in emergencies and if you want, you can refuse to sign. Basically, when it comes to recipient rights, any privilege they take away must be justified for safety reasons. So as long as you stay safe and follow the rules, they will not restrain you, put you in seclusion, or put you on suicide watch where someone has to watch you at all times. 

My best advice for people who are considering psychiatric hospitalization is to get the most benefit from it, it is important to be an active part of your treatment team and participate. That doesn’t mean blindly following the doctor’s orders. In fact, if you are not sure about something or disagree with something, speak up about it in a mature manner. Don’t get angry at them and ask questions. The more you take an active role in your treatment, the faster you will be able to recover, earn privileges, and be able to be placed in a less restrictive environment.

Since psychiatric hospitals tend to be boring, check the contraband list to see what is allowed and bring stuff to help entertain yourself since you won’t be allowed to use the internet or go outside whenever you want. Some good ideas for what to bring are your favorite books, stuff to draw or color with (just no pencils since you aren’t able to sharpen them), or a card game and get others to play with you. You should also pack some comfortable clothes since you are allowed to wear your own clothes usually as long as they follow the dress code (including not having any drawstrings). Also keep in mind that hospitalization is mostly to stabilize people. Often times when you come out of the hospital, you don’t feel completely better and often times the medication one is put on hasn’t taken full effect yet and you have to deal with life’s stressors again. Fortunately, hospitals will at least set you up with a psychiatrist and therapist after you leave, or there is also day treatment where you stay in the hospital during the day and go home at night.

In conclusion, psychiatric hospitalization really isn’t what the media makes it out to be. You play an active role in your treatment, you have a lot more rights than you would expect which they can only take away if necessary, and if you follow the guidelines you will be able to get stabilized and on the path to recovery. 

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