The loony bin, the nut house, the funny farm, the madhouse. There’s a huge stigma around mental hospitals and the services they provide. If you have no knowledge of them other than what you see on tv and movies there’s no way in hell you’d want to go to one. I get that. As someone who has been through the process I’d like to give you some insight on what actually happens when you go inpatient and hopefully quell some fear if you’re thinking of going yourself.
These tips are based on my experience in two different hospitals. Your experience may not be the same as mine but I have found that this is generally how it works.
Here’s how it works…..
Call to see if they have a bed available for you
- Be ready to go immediately if they do because often they can’t hold the bed for very long as someone else will need it too.
- Pack before you call. See the What to Bring section for my reccomendations.
Once you get there, get ready to wait
- This can be very stressful but it often takes a long time to get processed even when they’re holding a bed for you. There’s many reasons for this, including when the intake doctor can see you, when the nurses are available, if you came during meal time, and many of other factors. There are a lot of things at play that you can’t see so just be patient. Bring a book or make sure your phone is fully charged so you don’t get bored and consider bringing a sweater or blanket as it can be pretty cold in the waiting rooms.
- You’re going to have to sign a lot of paperwork and most of it is just consenting to treatment and the hospital covering its ass legally. If you don’t want to take any meds do not sign the consent form for medications.
- They’ll likely take you back to a room next and usually you can only bring one or two support people with you. The nurse will come and talk to you about why you’re there and take your vitals. Then you’ll talk to the doctor, either in person or via video conference depending on whether there is a doctor available to see you in person.
- Be honest with your doctor and nurse so they can give you the most personalized treatment possible. It is perfectly okay to ask your support person to leave the room so you can be as open as possible if need be.
- Once you get through that it will be time for your support person or people to say goodbye. ( Also it’s totally okay if you go alone. I have. You can park your car outside and you’ll be able to drive yourself home after.)
- A nurse of your gender will do a physical examination and this can be a bit uncomfortable but please understand that they are professionals and they will not be judging you (trust me they have always seen worse). The reason they do this is to check for self harm/ abuse. There are a few ways they do this. Either they will have you change into a gown or they will do it with you wearing what you came in. They will have to see your private parts but they are very professional about it and you will never be completely naked. They will ask you about any marks or scars. They’re not judging; they’re just doing their job.
- After your examination you’ll be ready to go back to the ward. They will do your initial blood and urine testing next. They do this to get an idea of where any medication levels already are and if you have any drugs in your system. If you do have drugs in your system don’t worry, they won’t turn you in. This is only necessary so they can provide you the best treatment possible.
Once you’re inside
- For me, the first night was always the scariest. It can be a bit overwhelming and it’s totally okay to cry or have a breakdown. That’s what you’re there for and no one is going to judge you.
- Depending on the facility you will likely have groups and therapy to go to all day. I’ve been to places that do all day groups and places that only do one or two. In some places the groups aren’t mandatory but I’d really suggest going even if you don’t want to. If you are trying to get out more quickly this is also the best course of action as the doctors will take attendance into account when deciding if you’re ready for discharge.
- The groups will range from arts and crafts to coping techniques. In one of my favorite groups we took a specific negative thought, gave it an opposite, positive thought and wrote that thought over and over in the shape of a rainbow. Things like that seem silly on the outside but can have a really profound effect.
- You will likely see your doctor every weekday and he or she might make some adjustments to your meds based on what you tell them. One of the nice things about the hospital is if you’re having a negative side effect or feel that the dosage isn’t right the doctor can change it right away. Be honest with your doctor about how you’re feeling. They can’t fix a problem that they don’t know about.
- When you’re not in group, you’ll probably spend a lot of your free time coloring,reading,and watching TV. You probably won’t get to pick the channel or they’ll put movies on all day. Embrace your free time. I found that my most profound and productive moments came from talking to my fellow patients about their struggles, helping them to see themselves in a different light, and in turn letting them helping me through some of my struggle.
- Fair warning, the food is usually awful. One of the hospitals I went to literally got their meals from the jail down the street, so don’t expect fine dining but at some point you just have to eat what you can. I found that all of the hospitals either had snacks for us during the day or had a vending machine so you definitely won’t starve.
- You will access to facility phones and be able to make phone calls during specific times. You will not have access to your cell phone. Make sure if someone wants to call you that they have your ID number which will be given to you during intake. Be sure to keep your call brief, as others are going to want to use the phone too.
- Some hospitals will allow you to have visitors every day but most will do it only 2 or 3 times a week. You’ll only be allowed to have 2 visitors at a time and they can’t touch you. They can bring you things like clothes and money for the machines but not food. Your minister will be allowed to see you at any time as religious counsel.
- The staff will provide shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion, and deodorant for you and give you a towel when you’re ready to shower. The towels are pitiful and the soap dries the heck out of your skin but you’ll have lotion for that. Pro tip: if you have hair that gets crazy mix some lotion and conditioner together and put a little of that on your hair after you shower (seems lame but it’s a lifesaver) Also the showers generally suck. Some you just push a button and water comes out for about 30 second at a time and some you’ll be able to control but the water pressure is always too high or too low. This is just one of those things you’ll have to deal with but I found that showering regularly no matter how inconvenient was worth it. I always felt a lot better after a shower.
What to bring:
Hospitals have a lot of rules about what you can bring in or wear and I have a few suggestions of my own for comfort. The rules that hospitals have are for safety and frankly no one in the hospital is making a fashion statement
My outfit of choice for the hospital is leggings, a huge t-shirt, slippers and a sweater. This is also a favorite of almost everyone there. In the hospital, dress for comfort. It’s often cold and no one cares what you look like honestly.
Some of the rules include (usually):
- no shorts
- no drawstring or shoelaces (basically anything you can use to strangle yourself)
- only enough clothes for 3-4 days (they will wash them for you)
- no weapons (duh)
- no headbands or hairpins ( it sucks but you can have hairties)
- no hats
- for girls no underwire so be sure to pack a sport bra or plan to go without
- no heavy soled shoes ( my boots were taken away hence the slippers)
Can I leave if I want?
The short answer is yes, unless you have been taken in by the police or have a mental health warrant on you, you can leave when ever you want. However if your doctor has not signed off on it you will be signed out AMA or against medical advice and they might not give you a prescription for your medication. There are also some issues with insurance at that point and you may end up having to pay for your stay out-of-pocket. Please don’t let this discourage you, I have found that if you feel you are well enough to leave, your doctor will probably agree and release you. Be honest with your doctor in the hospital. If you want to leave, tell your doctor. They want what’s best for you and they definitely don’t want you to go off your meds so you’ll likely be able to figure out a plan between the two of you.
What if I don’t have insurance?
There are a lot of services available for those without medical insurance. My last stay was at Tri County , a service in my area that offers free or reduced services to those in need and I continue to use them for outpatient services. I’m not an expert on this subject so you’ll want to do some independent research on what’s available
in your community. Starts by asking friends and family and looking for mental health resources through your county.
What if I don’t want to take meds?
They cannot force you to take medication if you came in of your own accord. There is paperwork that has to be signed and make sure to speak up if someone is trying to give you meds against your will. Most hospitals will have a patient advocate or a case worker there for most of the day who can help you with issues like this.
I’m going to do a few more in-depth posts about this later on, specifically about how my experiences were and those of others, so keep an eye out for those to come. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions about the post or my experiences.