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6 Things to Bring With You If You Are Hospitalized for Your Mental Health

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At the end of December 2017, I got admitted to an inpatient psychiatric unit for the first (and hopefully the last) time. The hospital is often a necessary step to help stabilize severe symptoms or adjust medications, both of which were were the case for me. Sometimes inpatient admissions are unexpected and sudden, such as through the emergency department. In other cases, however, you may have advance notice or the ability to bring the belongings that you’d like.

When I left my house on the morning of December 28th (a date that will be forever etched into my mind), I did not exactly expect to be admitted to an inpatient unit that day. As a result, especially having never gone through this experience, I was left without many items that would have been helpful. There were also items I did happen to have with me that helped improve my time in the hospital. With this in mind, here are a few things I would recommend bringing for an anticipated hospital stay. (Even if you don’t necessarily expect to be admitted, I’d recommend bringing the essentials just in case.) I say this knowing that not every hospital is the same, and that everyone has a unique experience. This list is based on my own experience, and the apparent similarities (based on internet research and the experiences of people I know) between many psychiatric hospital units.

1. A notebook.

Maybe several notebooks. I spent a large portion of my time in the hospital writing. I recorded how I was feeling throughout the day, wrote down observations of what was happening around me, and made notes of things I wanted to say when meeting with my treatment team. Not only did this help me pass the time and and process my thoughts, but it allowed me to better keep track of how my treatment was working, especially as the days began to blur together.

2. Clothing with layers.

My hospital unit had very poor temperature control. During some parts of the day I was covered in sweat, at others, I was freezing — even in long sleeves. This issue may partially have come from the hospital’s old building; however, I’ve heard
similar complaints from other people treated elsewhere. It’s important to remember that, unlike going on vacation, you won’t be able to go out and buy a new sweater if you’ve been cold. Hospital staff may be able to provide you with an extra blanket or a plain t-shirt, but having my own clothing helped me retain some connection to my “normal life.”

3. A book, jigsaw puzzle or other solitary entertainment.

Upon admission to an inpatient unit, it is highly likely that any phones, laptops or other electronic entertainment you have will be confiscated. With so many of us having come to rely on these devices for solitary entertainment, their absence can be one of the more difficult aspects of a hospital stay. Boredom can be painful in this environment — when things aren’t going well, it can be scary to be left with nothing to distract you from your thoughts. Though my hospital provided some jigsaw puzzles, I went through them in first few days. The hospital also provided a decent selection of board/card games, but there were many times when other patients weren’t around or I just wanted some time to myself.

4. Something with a comforting scent.

As we experience throughout our daily lives, smell is a powerful sense, able to easily bring disgust or comforting memories. My items that happened to have familiar scents (such as my usual laundry detergent) helped to ground me and made me feel at home while I was in the hospital. However, please remember that other patients and staff may have scent sensitivity for a variety of reasons, so I’d recommend keeping scents on specific objects or clothing rather than dousing yourself in your favorite perfume.

5. A list with phone numbers of friends and family.

Thanks to digital address books and contact lists, we now rarely have to memorize phone numbers for people that we contact frequently. Since hospitals usually confiscate electronic devices, these resources are luxuries that you won’t have in the hospital. This was a challenge I didn’t think through until I found myself lonely a few days into my hospitalization. Using the landline phones available, I had spoken to my dad and one close friend whose number I had to have memorized. Aside from those two people, I didn’t know how to reach anybody else.

6. A reminder of what keeps you going.

This is, perhaps, what was most important to me during my hospital stay. I didn’t bring any photos with me — once again, something that I usually keep on my electronic devices or on the walls of my house. When I had a close friend come to visit, she brought an envelope containing pictures of the two of us together, and I’d look through them every day. Doing so reminded me that even though the hospitalization experience is difficult and painful at times, and there were some moments I wanted to give up, I had to keep going. When I couldn’t do it for me, I did it for her, and the many other great people in my life.  I’d recommend bringing photos, old letters (or printed emails/messages) or an object that reminds you of your hobbies, passions and end goals for recovery.

No matter what you bring, hospital stays are often difficult experiences. Though hospital treatment can be very successful, you may lose a lot of freedoms in the process. My hope is that this list helps somebody enter the hospital equipped with what they want and need, in order to ensure that their inpatient stay is as pleasant and successful as possible.

Unsplash photo via Glenn Carstens-Peters

Originally published: December 6, 2018
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