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Fact Sheet

Psychiatric hospitals or wards

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ReachOut fact sheets are written by young people for young people and edited by a mental health professional. Want to discuss the topic in more depth? Visit the ReachOut Forums.

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Psychiatric hospitals and wards specialize in treating people who are experiencing a variety of different mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, anxiety and eating disorders.

Psychiatric hospitals and wards can be part of a larger hospital or located in a smaller building like a clinic.

Many people find spending time in a psychiatric hospital a very helpful way to:

  • Rest and reflect;
  • Find out what is happening emotionally, and why;
  • Stabilize medications they might be taking;
  • Get intensive treatment from doctors and other health professionals with specialist training, like nurses, occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists.

Voluntary and involuntary admission

A voluntary admission is when a person enters a psychiatric hospital at his or her own request or at the suggestion of a doctor, parent, or guardian. This can be at a time when that person feels he or she needs some extra support. Voluntary admission can be organized by the person who is being admitted, or by a doctor, parent, or guardian, by getting in contact with the psychiatric hospital.

There are times when a person becomes so ill that they are at risk of hurting themselves or others and hospitalization becomes necessary even though the individual does not wish to enter a hospital. This is called an involuntary admission. This occurs when someone else has recognized that the person is imminently a danger to him or herself or others. In most states, police officers and designated mental health professionals can require a brief commitment of an individual for psychiatric evaluation. If the individual is evaluated as needing further hospitalization, a court order must be obtained.

Where are psychiatric hospitals located?

You might find it difficult to research psychiatric wards and hospitals over the Internet, but your medical doctor or psychiatrist should be able to recommend one that will suit you best.

Some are privately run, while others are within larger hospitals. Some might also have a limited number of places available, while others may only admit people at certain times of the year.

Things you might consider when choosing a psychiatric hospital is the cost, program (including any restrictions in activity and other policies), size and length of stay.

How much will it cost to stay at a psychiatric hospital?

The cost of a stay in a psychiatric hospital or ward varies widely. Some run on donations or require a very small fee, while others are privately run and expensive. You or your parents might be able to claim back some of costs through private health insurance or through federally funded health insurance programs. For more information on how to pay for these services, check out the Paying for mental health services fact sheet.

How much time do people spend in psychiatric hospitals?

The length of stay depends on a variety of factors. These can include what you are being treated for, the type of treatment you need and what your doctor decides will help you best. Most stays are short-term.

It’s common that programs will run for a set period of time, and most people stay for the duration of that period. Involuntary patients may have the length of time set by a judge. After that set amount of time expires, a doctor will usually decide if further treatment is needed. Sometimes, the judges and doctors will not agree, and a lawyer might need to get involved.

What happens in the psychiatric hospital?

Upon arrival at the hospital, a patient will have a consultation with a doctor.  The doctor will give an assessment of the situation a patient is in, and tell him or her a bit more about how everything works. If you’re a patient, this is a good time for to ask any questions you might have about your treatment or what you should expect. Depending on state law, you might get a second opinion from another doctor early on in your stay.

During your stay, the activities you take part in will vary depending on what your goals are. They might include:

  • Group work. This is a group discussion with other patients that is facilitated by a social worker, nurse, doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor.
  • Individual therapy. This is one-on-one counseling with a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor.
  • Personal time. You’ll probably find that you have a lot of time to yourself during your stay. How you fill this time is up to you, but it might include interacting with other patients, doing work or studying if you feel able, or just chilling out and reflecting. Depending on the hospital and your needs, you might have your own room, or you might have to share with others. You might also be allowed to bring your own books, phone and music. 
  • Visitors. Many hospitals have set visiting times so you can see family and friends. You might also be allowed to go home during weekends.

Medication

Unless it is an emergency situation, you can work with your psychiatrist on deciding whether medication should be part of your treatment.  Medication might include antidepressants, sedatives, anti-psychotics and occasionally electric shock treatment for very severe mental illnesses. Just because a person is on more or less medication than you doesn’t mean that you are any better or worse than they are. You can read more information about medication on the Managing Long Term Medication fact sheet.

What to do if you’re unhappy with treatment

If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied with any part of your treatment, it’s important that you talk about it with your doctor or psychiatrist. They may not realize you’re unhappy unless you say something. You might then discuss ways to adjust your treatment so you’re getting the best possible outcome. If you continue to be unhappy with your treatment, you have the right to ask for a second opinion.

Dealing with fears about going home

You might look forward to going home, or you might feel scared or nervous at the thought of leaving the hospital. You might be scared that things will go back to the way they were, that you’ll be alone, or that you won’t be able to cope with the added pressures of home, like chores, work and school.
The first few days at home can be tough. If you’re having a rough time, it’s important to make use of the supportive people you have around you. Try to identify people that you can talk to or call when you are having a hard time, like friends, family or a counselor. You might want to set this up before you leave the hospital.

It might also help to arrange activities before you leave the hospital so you have something to look forward to and to make you feel less alone. It’s a good idea to investigate and list these activities before leaving the hospital so that supports are in place before returning home, making the transition a little easier and less overwhelming. Hospital staff or a community mental health team member can assist you in doing this.

Comments

Responses

  • avatar2

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    letters

    Hey. I was just wondering if I should be admitted to a mental hospital and thought you could help. I am a 14 year old female and I’ve had severe depression for about 3 years, since I started high school. It was bad enough in sec 1 when I was having suicidal thoughts and kept thinking of suicide. Then it wasn’t so bad in sec 2 but now it got really bad in sec 3. I can only think of suicide. I’ve been looking up ways to kill yourself, I cant stop, I’ve been asking questions to friends, like how they would react if I died and how they would kill themselves. I’ve been reading books on suicide, i’m addicted. When I told my friends I think I have depression they just laughed at me and said I wanted attention. Since then I haven’t talked to anyone about it. I usually cry myself to sleep at night and I don’t know why. I don’t want to tell my parents because I think they’re the cause of it all. I’ve started thinking of cutting myself because I always feel so numb or just angry all the time, which brings me to my other reason. I have violent outbursts and its really hard to control [...]. I also think i’m bipolar, even though my friends say i’m not. My mood can change in a second from happy to violent. I’m extremely paranoid, It always seems like people are out to get me and talking behind my back, [...]. I also see things, from the corner of my eyes, shadows. I hear stuff, like thumps down the stairs and clicks like nails on walls. At night there’s shadows and when I stare at them too long they start to take form and the room gets really dark, but I always look away. Please answer this. If i’m not a waste of your time.

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hi letters. It sounds like you’re going through a really rough and scary period. We’re very worried about you and encourage you to seek professional help. Try to talk to your parents about it and please consider seeing your doctor or calling the Boys Town Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. It’s free, confidential, available 24/7, and not just for boys. It sounds like you really need someone to talk to and they can help you. Hang in there!

      • avatar2

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        XunicornsX

        I have the same question. But I am a year younger and I do not see or hear unusual things like that. I really do not know what to do and there is only one person whom I trust but I feel like she is tired of me talking all about my problems and being so emotional :( Please help me.

        • avatar1

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          ReachOut

          Sometimes our friends want to help, but they just don’t know HOW to help, because they don’t have enough experience in what you’re going through. One thing you could do is to call the Boys Town Hotline at 1-800-448-3000.  They do know how to help, and would probably be able to answer a lot of the questions you have.  The hotline is free and confidential (and it’s not just for boys!)  Or, you could look up another hotline in your area and call them.  So many people want to help.

          We’re on your side,
          The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

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    luv_mygirlfriend

    Hi!  I made an account just to ask this question.  I’m not sure if I’m asking in the right spot but-.  My girlfriend voluntarily through the advice of our college’s councilor agreed to stay in a psychiatric hospital off-campus to stabilize meds as the ones she was on were having adverse effects on her suicidal thoughts.  She has been there four days and thought she was leaving today but instead she found out that the doctor there won’t let her leave as he still wants to “analyze her medications.”  She obviously is very upset because I am leaving the state to return home over Christmas break and she won’t see me at all until next semester.  Is there any way I can help her besides calling and talking to her?  How long can I expect her to stay there?  If she’s there over Christmas can I send her a gift?  Please, I don’t know what to do and how can I show her it’s going to be okay.  (I talk with a councilor at the same on-campus place she goes to and he said that the college has the authority to force someone into the hospital but that they ask first and try to get them to go voluntarily first - I’m guessing then that its more serious than she realizes?)

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      You’re obviously upset by this, and that’s understandable. We obviously don’t know the details, or the rules of the hospital where she is, but I’d say your best bet is to call the place and talk to someone about whether or not you can send a gift. If you’re able to talk to your gf (and it sounds like you are), maybe just stay positive, and reassure her that your relationship is strong enough to last through this time of separation. You seem to want what is best for her, and if she’s in a place where she’s getting help, then that is probably the best thing, even if the timing is bad.

      Be sure to take care of yourself, as well.  This fact sheet might give you some tips on self-care:  http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/i-am-trying-to-help-my-friend-why-do-i-feel-bad-or-stressed  Or if you just want to talk to someone, you can call the Boys Town National Hotline any time, day or night, at 1-800-448-3000.

      We are thinking of you and your girlfriend!
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

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    Mintythings

    i am 13, will be 14 next month and i want to enter a mental hospital. im dealing with depression, self harm, bulimia, OCD, anxiety, and am suicidal. i want to get better, and i know that if i dont go to a psychiatric hospital im going to end up killing myself or running away. i live with my grandmother and she knows i am suicidal but thinks im fine now. im not sure how to tell her or how to work any of this out. im also worried about costs. can someone help me?

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hi Mintythings (cute name!). We’re sorry you’re going through a rough time, but it sounds like you’re really trying hard to make things better. That takes a lot of strength; good on you! Try talking more to your grandmother. This may all be new territory for her. Ask her to take you to a doctor. As for the costs, someone in the doctor’s office may be able to guide you towards some resources and financial aid. Don’t let the worry about cost stop you. There’s financial help out there. Best of luck!

  • avatar2

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    Idkwhattodo

    Im a 24 year old girl and i want to admit myself in to a hospital . I suffer from depression and i think i am bi polar .. There are days that i cant go on with being mad or upset. I spend most of my days crying and sometimes have tried to hurt myself. I was recently in a relationship nd i have been very violent. He put up with me for a while but i lost him. I also sometimes thought it was because i was angry that i lost my father at a young age he was buried in a diff country and i have yet to visit his grave.I just feel like its time to get help but i do not want my family knowing about me being in a hospital. If i was to admit myself can they legally tell my family? I would prefer to get better on my own rather than causing my family a great deal of depression.

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hey there, Idkwhattodo. We’re sorry you’re going through a rough time, but glad you are seeking help. It takes a lot of strength and courage to do what you’re doing. We’re not medical or legal experts, but since you are an adult, you probably don’t have to tell your parents about checking yourself into a hospital. Talk to your doctor. S/he can provide more information about the process. Best of luck.

  • avatar2

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    Siituatiions

    I struggle with self harm and used to do it quite extensively much younger. I am telling my parents today at my therapist and my psychiatrist wants to talk about hospitalizing me. But, here’s the thing: I am not at all scared of going to a psychiatric hospital but there’s something I am worried about. My boyfriend has been to a hospital twice both for a week or more times. The experience for him was horrible. When he got back both times he didn’t know anything. He didn’t know who I was his mom, dad, friends, or anything. He has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and mpd. He started remembering me a few days later, so that got okay. We have been dating for 9 months and I literally can not go a day without talking to him. If I get admitted I need some sort of way to talk to him. I’m afraid that while I’m gone something bad might happen or his mpd might kick in and he will forget me like he has a few times before if we don’t talk for an extended amount of time.

    Would I be able to put him on a call list or something? I just can’t go that long without him. That would probably make things worse. I might be going to a place called [...] in the [...] area, do you know anything about how they manage visitors or calling? Please help. I’m scared.

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hey there,

      It’s so awesome that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get better.  You can do this!

      Just be honest with your therapist and with the facility about your feelings about being in contact with your boyfriend while you’re away. They might limit your time, because really, the whole point is for you to focus on doing what it takes to get you well.

      We wish you the best in the next phase!
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

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    Kiyoshi

    I’ve been to an adolescent psychiatric ward 7 times, some were good experiences and helpful. Others weren’t and were triggering. I have to go back for a planned admission next week :(

    The ward I go to is public and in Melbourne, Australia.

  • avatar2

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    princessyeye

    My boyfriends in a psychiatric hospital. His been there since sunday its been 5 days. His mom called the cops on him and they basically put him there   his a very aggresive person , I want to know how long his going to stay there. I miss him so much, is there any way I can contact him in there ?

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hi princesseye. There’s no way for us to know how long your boyfriend will be in the hospital. That will depend on him and his doctor. Try getting in touch with his parents to see if you can find out more information and whether you can contact him while he’s in the hospital. Best of luck!

  • avatar2

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    TarantinoFreak

    I just went to see my dad in a psych ward for his depression. I found it ironic because he threatened to take me to the exact same place two years ago. I’ve not been diagnosed with depression or anxiety but a counselor did tell me once that with both of my parents having that, it’s a strong chance that I do. I don’t know.. some days I just have the roughest day ever and I just want to come home and [...] and others I feel fine. The subject of suicide is so sensitive to talk about with my family because my “guardian” just died and I’m left with my grandmother and she believes only weak and cowardly people commit suicide.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is I think I should be in a psych unit but I was scared to be there just visiting.
    I’m not sure how I’m feeling about it.

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      It really seems like you’re going through a lot, and that it’s having an affect on you.  We’re so sorry that all this has been going on.  Maybe it’s time to talk to someone again, like a counselor or a therapist.  The Boys Town Hotline could also give you some great advice. They’re a great resource when you just need to talk to someone and figure out the things that are going on.  The number is 1-800-448-3000, and the hotline is free and confidential.

      What’s good about your situation is that you seem to want to get better.  That’s awesome!  Keep working toward that goal.

      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

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    Cathy20

    I’m 16 years old and a Junior in High School. I’m smart, have been in honors classes my whole life and now I’m in AP U.S. History and it’s going slowly down hill. I got 1 D, 3 Cs, 2 Bs, and 1 A on my final 10th grade report card - the worst grades I’d ever gotten in a looong time. I am currently standing at 1 F, 3 Ds (2 of them are high D/low C shifters ), 2 Bs, and 1 A. I was diagnosed with ADHD and Anxiety in the 6th grade, and have been on medications for each since then. I tend to be a lazy student that focuses on the big picture of learning and not so much on assignments. I’ve recently been told I will be moving away at the end of this school year, and since I’ve recieved that news my school work has been poor. I am severely depressed but I am keeping a strong will and am not letting myself commit self-harm. I don’t let suicidal thoughts into my head. But I still feel as if I’m slowl spiralling downwards into insanity and there’s no hope for my future because no college will ever accept me because I’m scared to put stress on myself to learn to do things right the first time because I’m a perfectionist that doesn’t like to make major mistakes in school. I feel as if I need to have someone hold my hand and guide me through understanding things, and everywhere I turn my teachers are saying they aren’t going to do that since they aren’t there for jst me and I understand that, yet I don’t. I tend to have a perspective on my mental state that tells me what I need to do, but mentally I can’t do it and I dn’t know why and I want to know if the people at a psych ward/mental hospital in Indiana can possibly help me?

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hey Cathy,

      It’s good that you recognize what’s going on with your grades, and that you want to improve.  It really sounds like you should talk to a counselor or someone about what you can do to get some help.  This fact sheet talks about how a counselor can help you:  http://us.reachout.com/facts/factsheet/counselors  It also gives you the number to the Boys Town Hotline (1-800-448-3000) who would be a good resource for you, as well.

      Keep looking for answers!  You’re going to succeed!
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

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    Tristan

    I was voluntarily admitted to mental health ward at my local hospital about a week ago but once i got upstairs to the actual ward i freaked out and couldn’t do it, i had anxiety about having to share a room with somebody and then when they made room for me to be put into a private room i freaked out because i could bring my phone along with me. I think i was honestly just trying to make up excuses for myself but that wasn’t the right thing for me to do… I really feel I need help and i am very tired of feeling this way it’s so hard to deal with and i feel like i’m bringing the people i love down with me. i have symtoms of depression and bipolar disorder.. i have never been diagnosed,  but i know what they are through research and feel that i suffer from them. i have thoughts of suicide and i self harm myself.

    i guess what i really want to know and what i would like advice on is whether its a good idea to go back to the hospital and volunteer my admission again or if i should try a different route such as privet consoling ect.

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hi Tristan. The important thing is that you get the help you need and deserve. It’s great that you’re taking those steps to get better. It’s hard to say what kind of help is best for you and you may need to try a few different avenues to see what works best for you. If admitting yourself to the hospital is too overwhelming, try small group therapy, or perhaps a one-one-session with a therapist instead. Talk to your doctor about options. Best of luck!

  • avatar2

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    maddie3006

    I am having suicidal thoughts. Sometimes I think about ways to kill myself… or at least hurt myself very badly. I struggle with self harm. I should probably tell me therapist about this but I am terrified they will put me in a hospital, not because I am actually scared of the hospital, but I am very worried about my parents being able to afford it or how much insurance will cover. Also, I don’t want to upset my parents and siblings.

    • avatar1

      Reply - Quote

      ReachOut

      Hey maddie, it sounds like you are really struggling right now. Seems like if you’re already in therapy, then the best way to start getting better is to just be honest with your therapist about what you’re thinking and how you’re really doing. Another step you could take is to call the Boys Town Hotline at 1-800-448-3000. The hotline is free and confidential, and not just for boys. You could talk this over with them, and get more info and advice. We hope you’ll call them! We care about you and are concerned about you, and want you to start feeling much better.

      Take care of yourself,
      —The ReachOut Crew

  • avatar2

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    justreallyworried

    My ex-girlfriend has supposedly been admitted to a psych ward recently. I say supposedly because we haven’t been in touch for quite a while. Visiting is not an option (distance being a factor but mostly because I don’t want to make things worse, she didn’t take the break up well at the time), and I’m pretty sure her family doesn’t particularly like me. In short: I have barely any information and not really a way to get more.. which is why I’m so worried.

    I may have broken up with her but I never lost the feelings I had for her, and knowing she’s going through this is messing me up aswell. I don’t think the break up caused this per se so it’s not necessarily a guilt issue.

    Anyway background information sorted.. I wanted to read up on these things and see what it’s like. We’ve all seen the horror movies and documentaries / heard the stories.

    On the basis of her having been able to cope with life so far (despite all the shit it threw at her, she hasn’t had many positive things in life unfortunately), and seemingly having broken down and gone a little crazy…

    How likely is it that she’ll get back out and be ok? Because that is my concern.

    • avatar1

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      ReachOut

      Hi there justreallyworried. We understand you’re concerned about your ex-girlfriend. If she’s been admitted to a ward, it’s likely she’ll receive the help she needs to get better. You can probably relax. You might think about trying to contact her parents and just letting them know you’re concerned, want to wish them all well, and want to know she’s ok. Best of luck.

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