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What It's Like Going to the Emergency Room for Suicidal Thoughts

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When someone’s actively suicidal, we often tell them to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 9-1-1 or go to the local emergency room. These are all correct responses, but they’re also scary, big steps for someone in a mental health crisis.

To demystify what happens in the emergency room, I want to share my own experiences. Every hospital is different, but here’s what happened to me when I went to the ER because I was feeling suicidal.

1. I had to tell the ER staff why I was there. 

Whenever you go to the ER for any reason, you have to tell the staff why you’re there. You can word this however you want: I’m feeling suicidal. I have a suicide plan. I’m having suicidal thoughts. I’m feeling really depressed. I went with my parents, so they talked to the staff for me. (If you feel as though you need support, it’s a good idea to go with your parents, guardian or someone you trust.)

In my visits to the ER, a mental health crisis professional came to evaluate me to determine what level of care I needed. This means you should be extremely honest  — they’re trying to get you the help you need. I was asked if I had a plan, if I had previous attempts/thoughts/hospitalizations, what medications I was taking (if any), any issues going on in my life and other questions to determine my mental state.

2. Once my level of care was determined, they found me a place where I could receive it. 

In mental health treatment there are different levels of care, determined by how much supervision and treatment you need.

Inpatient hospitalization means you spend both days and nights at the hospital. Depending on your area, it may be a floor of a regular hospital or a free-standing psychiatric hospital. Inpatient hospitalization is for people who are deemed “high-risk.” The length of stay varies.

You also might be enrolled in an intensive outpatient program which is outpatient day treatment. Outpatient means you sleep at home, but go to programs during the day.

3. If you have to go to inpatient, it’s to keep you safe and it’s OK.

Each time I’ve been to the ER for suicidal thoughts, the evaluator decided I needed to go to inpatient. I was in the ER for several hours while they found a bed, and while I was waiting I got blood taken and they ran some tests. My inpatient program was not in the hospital the ER was in, so I was transferred by ambulance.

The rooms are usually plain looking and empty, but not scary like old photos of “psychiatric wards” you see online! I had one roommate and decorated with quotes and pictures.

I’ll be honest, inpatient hospitalization is not a vacation. You lose a lot of freedoms in inpatient treatment. In my experience, they took away anything I could possibly hurt myself (or others) with — shoelaces, strings in clothes, belts — anything sharp and anything long. But, I had to understand it was for my safety. I was monitored closely to make sure I was safe.

4. Whatever happens, don’t be scared of getting the help you need.

While inpatient hospitalization can be scary, it can also be life-saving. I’ve been in this type of treatment several times after going to the ER. Each time has been different, but each time I learned something valuable. It was there I first experienced art therapy. I played piano and basketball. I made a good friend and had conversations that helped me. Leaving everything you know and love with scarce contact with the outside world sounds terrifying, but sometimes it’s exactly what you need.

When you’re in a mental health crisis it can be hard to see clearly. Research local hospitals beforehand and find out how they handle behavioral health cases. Some hospitals may be more equipped for mental health crisis situations than others. Here are some questions you or someone you trust should ask during these times. If you’re someone who lives with suicidal thoughts, knowing what to expect can help ease some of the burden of getting help.

Don’t hesitate — you can do this!

Editor’s note: This piece talks about a specific experience regarding suicidal thoughts and hospitalizations. Not all experiences will be or are the same.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

This post originally appeared on the Active Minds blog

The Mighty wants to hear about your experiences in psychiatric hospitals. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Share Your Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Originally published: November 23, 2015
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