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16 Things People Wish They Knew Before Their First Psychiatric Hospital Stay

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Although it can feel overwhelming and scary going to the hospital for any reason, there’s a unique fear and uncertainty that often accompanies a psychiatric hospital stay. Most people’s knowledge of psychiatric hospitals comes from depictions in media, which usually sensationalizes in-patient psychiatric facilities and the people admitted. For many first-timers, going to a psychiatric hospital is truly stepping into the unknown — which is doubly scary when you’re already in a mental health crisis.

Having an inkling of what to expect before you’re admitted to a psychiatric hospital can help ease those fears and help you make the most out of your stay. We asked our Mighty mental health community to share what they wish they knew the first time they were admitted to the hospital, and what they would want others to know if they’re being admitted for the first time. Unfortunately, psychiatric hospitals range in quality and you may have a different experience depending on how the facility is managed. But the following advice may help prepare you for daily life as an in-patient and keep you focused on the goal at hand: getting stable and heading on a treatment path.

Here’s what our community told us:

1. Bring shoes or slippers.

“Ask for shoes so when you walk the halls over and over your legs don’t ache.” — Sidney W.

2. Going to a psychiatric hospital is nothing to be ashamed of.

“It’s nothing to be ashamed of! I do not have to be embarrassed or feel ashamed that I stayed in a psychiatric hospital. I wouldn’t be embarrassed or ashamed to stay on a medical floor. That thought would never even cross my mind. And it shouldn’t cross anyone’s mind who’s staying in a psych hospital either. Just as with a medical illness, you are there to be safe and get help.” — Kris A.

“I really wish someone would have told me that it’s OK to go there and ask for help. In the movies/social media, you only hear about how bad it is and the ‘crazy’ people that go there. But in reality, it is very helpful for a lot of people and there is nothing wrong with going if you need to. Everyone is struggling but we are normal people.” — Maddy P.

3. You can voluntarily admit yourself to a psychiatric hospital, which may allow you to skip the emergency room (depending on where you live).

“I wish I’d known that you could voluntarily admit yourself… It ended up being a much less complicated or time-intensive process to simply walk into the psychiatric hospital than to first go to the ER and wait for them to do everything to medically clear you. It also saves lots of money.” — Megan G.

4. Participate in the therapy sessions and activities.

“You’re there for a reason. Although you may not see it or feel it at the moment, they’re there to help. Hospitals don’t want you there, they want you to get better so you can live your life, but they can only support you in that if you allow them to help. Engage in meetings, interact with people even though it’ll be scary at first, just use the time to try and find even a percentage of yourself again!” — Maddi F.

5. The work doesn’t end once you leave the hospital.

“The real work begins once you are released. Make and keep your follow up appointments, and work with your community psychiatrist to find a combination of meds that is truly helpful. Numerous tweaks, one at a time, every two weeks, will likely be necessary. Once you find the right meds, take them exactly as prescribed, each and every day. Even one missed dose can spell disaster, and leave you vulnerable to withdrawal or a relapse in your symptoms.” — Megan L.

6. Don’t compare yourself to other patients.

“I wish I didn’t compare myself to others. Our journey is ours alone and like jealousy, comparison can be so harmful in recovery. No matter your mental or physical state, you are deserving of recovery just as much as the next person.” — Elizabeth H.

“Having been hospitalized in eating disorder units I wish I would have known how to try to ignore the competition that exists there. I never learned to deal with myself so I still struggle today. Ignore the swirling weirdness around you and try to concentrate on why you are there.” — Brittany B.

7. In-patient psychiatric units are meant for short-term stays.

“I’m a soon-to-be psych nurse who spent the last month doing an internship in an acute unit. One thing I think many people don’t understand or know about in-patient psych units is that they are not meant to be a long-term treatment. They exist to keep you safe — safe from hurting yourself or someone else — and to keep you safe and start you on treatment, but the goal is to discharge you to an outpatient facility where the real work can begin. Many people came voluntarily to get help, but they had never tried outpatient treatment before, especially men. That was very surprising to me.” — Amanda M.

8. Advocate for yourself and what you need.

“Be your own advocate! You are the only one that knows yourself the best. If you don’t agree with the way your treatment is going, speak up. If you have any questions or concerns, ask a staff, nurse or doctor. Sometimes staff can treat you like you’re incompetent because you are ‘just a patient,’ but that’s not true! You are equal to them, another human being.” — Alea D.

“Make a picture of how you want to be, and if your mental state does not equal that then tell the doctor… Psych wards are to get you in, stabilized, come up with a plan and leave… Take a couple or 10 days off of real life and use that time to plan your comeback! Then get released and execute your comeback plan! With the right meds and support most of us can make it.” — Jamie U.

9. Be patient.

“Pack some patience. It takes a long time for everything to happen, and the days are long.” — Jackie S.

“What I wish I had known is that there isn’t much that got accomplished on weekends. I was there to get better and work happens during the week.” — Donna F.

10. Be prepared to fill out lots of paperwork about your medical history.

“Paperwork. There’s a lot of it. Please have a trusted friend of family member go with you if you are unable to completely understand what is being said. They will ask important questions on paper and in person, please don’t be afraid of repercussions by admitting the truths. (If you took any drugs, cannabis usage — yes this is important when they choose medications, alcohol, medications, what illnesses you are aware of, the truth about how long it’s been since you’ve received help). I know. It’s a lot to reveal to some random person with a clipboard, but they are not there to judge and will even respect and thank your honesty.” — Clarissa H.

11. Engaging with other patients can be beneficial as well.

“Talk to your peers, even if you think they might seem ‘scary.’ I learned so much and renewed my faith just based off conversations with others in groups during breaks.” — Clarissa H.

“I started meeting the other patients and getting to know them. We became a family in a way, only this new family loved and supported me and I them. Bonds quickly grew and when it was time to say goodbye it was painful. I wish I had known that the love and support I needed was locked inside that unit with me when I was first put in, then maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so much time rebelling and being non-compliant.” — Roxanne B.

12. Not all hospitals are created equal, so don’t give up on your mental health treatment if you have a bad experience.

“It all depends what type of hospital you attend. I had a great friend who helped me find the community hospital in Long Beach [that] saved my life. They were so warm and showed so much empathy. A lot of hospitals should learn from them. I felt heard and safe by the staff. They really changed my life. But some hospitals are horrible, they treat you like you don’t know what’s going on. But I say do what you can and participate, it makes times go a little faster. It’s is sad but when I left the good hospital I went to I felt like my life had a turning point.” — Magda K.

13. If you can, find out what you’re allowed to bring before you arrive.

“I worked in a psychiatric facility for several years; always felt bad for patients having to have their belongings searched. Patients need to know what they are allowed to bring.” — Linda S.

“When I was sectioned I wasn’t allowed any personal belongings. Had to ask for my washbag and clothes and towel in the morning and they’d write what I had, had to return washbag, etc. when done.” — Natalie M.

14. Try not to panic about other things going on in your life outside the facility.

“Don’t panic. Even if you genuinely want the help, it can feel very claustrophobic once you are admitted. You’re there to find stability so allow that to be your focus. You can worry about everything else later.” — Tahni R.

15. You will have a schedule and rules to follow.

“[I wish I knew about] the lack of control you have over your own life and time. Everything planned from activities to what and when to eat. After I was there for a while the activity part of their control was better as I then had a schedule. Transitioning back from having every minute planned to being in the community with no set schedule was hard.” — Laura L.

16. You aren’t a failure for going to a psychiatric hospital, and your story isn’t over.

“[I wish I knew] to not be afraid. That this wasn’t the end of my journey and that I would learn things about myself and that I needed to take a change of course in my life in order to get better. And also to bring slippers.” — Victoria B.

For more insight on psychiatric hospitals, check out these stories from our Mighty community:

Originally published: January 6, 2020
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