Psychiatric Hospital survival guide.

There may come a time during your recovery where outpatient treatment isn’t enough and a stay in a psychiatric hospital may benefit you. Obviously, this should be a worst case scenario…not the place you run to when things start to get bad. I say this because I spent several years in and out of seven different psychiatric hospitals over thirty different times because after my first stay (that was necessary) I was scared to live outside the safety of the hospital walls. I do not want to deter anyone from checking themselves into a psychiatric hospital/unit if they truly feel inside that they need it, because inpatient stays have their purpose definitely! If you are completely unable to say that you won’t harm yourself and/or others (especially if you have a plan to harm yourself or someone else) you need to IMMEDIATELY go straight to the nearest psychiatric hospital or emergency room.
I will go into alternatives to inpatient psychiatric stays in my next post! But to go into it briefly now, if you aren’t sure if you need to go inpatient or stay outpatient, do not hesitate to contact your therapist and/or psychiatrist as soon as possible.
When an inpatient psychiatric stay is obviously the right course of action at that time, or you aren’t sure either go straight to the psychiatric hospital or the nearest emergency room. If you go the emergency room route, they will check you out medically, talk to you, sometimes even have a social worker or psychiatric specialist come in and talk to you about why you are considering an inpatient stay. If they feel it is what you need, they will contact the psychiatric hospital and most likely you will be transferred to the psych hospital. If you go straight to the psych hospital, you will undergo an assessment or evaluation where you talk to someone who works there about your situation. If they agree that you would benefit from an inpatient stay they will work on admitting you or if they are full, finding another nearby psych hospital that has an open bed.
After being admitted to the hospital, you will be taken to whichever unit would benefit you the most. Some psychiatric hospitals/wards are very small and there is only one unit, in which every psych patient is admitted to no matter their symptoms or diagnosis. Other psychiatric hospitals are larger and have several units. For example, Virginia Beach Psychiatric Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia has five inpatient psychiatric units. They have CAU (child and adolescent unit), CDT (Center for dual treatment), CER (Center for emotional recovery), RSU (Rapid stabilization unit), and CIE (Center for intense evaluation). As I mentioned above, you will be admitted to a particular unit depending on your symptoms, diagnosis and even where they have an available bed for you.
Once you arrive on the unit usually a psychiatric tech, counselor or nurse will search you to make sure you don’t have anything on you that you could use to harm yourself or others. Yes, this can be a little scary and embarrassing, but it must happen to ensure the safety of others on the unit as well as yourself. When they search you, they are usually as quick as possible and they do not hurt you. This search is also conducted somewhere private, so you do not have to worry about other patients seeing you. At this point the staff will also take items like shoelaces, jewelry, hoodie strings, anything that could be harmful. The staff with either lock up your items that you can’t have during your hospitalization or they will ask you to call a family member to pick the items up, that way they are safe. To make sure that none of your items get lost or forgotten, when they take items from you they make a list of everything, sign the list and have you review it and sign it. When your hospital stay is over, you get all of your items back and you sign the list when you are sure you have everything back.
The charge nurse during the shift you arrive during will also do a short interview with you. She or he will ask you questions about what brought you to the hospital, if you have any open wounds at the moment, etc… Just like the search, this is an important process that doesn’t take much more than five minutes and no harm will come to you.
On the unit there are usually groups throughout the day. Some psychiatric hospitals don’t offer groups, but the majority of them do and they are extremely helpful, so make sure you attend as many as you possibly can. Take notes while you are in group too, that way when you leave the hospital you will have everything you learned at your fingertips at all times. During the groups you are not forced to talk if you are truly not comfortable, but usually if you at least say a little bit, it helps you to start healing, learning, and opening up to your fellow patients.
Some hospitals offer occupational therapy, recreation therapy, music therapy, art therapy, animal therapy and so on. These groups are especially fun and also help in the recovery process. In these groups you learn positive and effective coping mechanisms, how to have fun, how to express yourself in a creative and positive way and to just relax! Many patients find these groups to be their favorite.
There will be down time in which you can spend watching tv (every psychiatric unit I have ever been hospitalized in has always had a TV), coloring with crayons (most hospitals don’t allow you to use pen or pencil because they can be used as weapons), putting puzzles together, playing games like Pictionary, reading the newspaper, or even calling loved ones. Another common feature of psych units are patient telephones that you can use in between groups, and before bedtime to call loved ones. Most units have telephones that are completely free to the patients as long as they are local, and two long distance calls a day, but a Veterans Administration hospital I stayed in in Ann Arbor, Michigan required a calling card.
One tip I have for you so far is to try not to be afraid of other patients, but also, don’t be overly-trusting. You must find a happy balance when it comes to communicating with other patients. It really helps to talk with other patients because they may not be going through your situation, but they are going through something similar, therefore, most of the time, they can relate to you. Be careful not to talk about anything you feel is not something you want or should share, especially contact information. When I was in the hospital, I would normally give patients I made friends with my email address, that way if down the line they turned out to be unhealthy to communicate with; it was easy to block them from communicating with me. Never never never give another patient your home or work address, it just isn’t safe or wise.
If you feel at any time that you are becoming attracted to or are attracting (whether willfully or not) another patient in a sexual way remember that you are in the hospital to focus on recovery and so should they, but also, you really don’t know that person even if they are telling you their life story. When people are going through a crisis (as all are when they are hospitalized) they are not behaving the way they would normally. I know some of you are probably laughing at this concept, but believe me, it happens all the time, even in drug and alcohol rehab. Also, if you feel at all uncomfortable with the way another patient is talking to you, or if they touch you, go to a nurse or a psychiatric tech/counselor immediately! It is their job to protect you.
Another important tidbit of information to remember is that during your inpatient stay, if you are truly being treated unfairly or inhumanely (This does not occur nearly as often as it used to, but it still does) tell a staff member and/or your doctor that you want to speak to the Patient Advocate. The patient advocate is in charge of making sure every patient is being treated correctly, and if they find that a patient is not being treated right, they will fix the situation as fast as possible.
While you are inpatient at the psychiatric ward you will see a psychiatrist every day that will talk to you about medication to help treat your disorder(s). Remember that when the doctor discusses medication options with you, you have a right to ask questions, receive print-outs of information regarding the medication, and to tell the doctor if you are not comfortable with a particular medication and would like to try a different one. Like I said in a previous post…speak up for yourself. You are your own best advocate. When it comes to your treatment, you must be vigilant and present.
The most important thing to remember when you are inpatient is that your stay is what you make of it. If you want to get well, attend groups, communicate with your doctor, nurses, psychiatric techs and social workers. Take notes during group, and share where you can. Listen to what your peers have to say and also take some time to relax. The hospital definitely serves its purpose but also remember it isn’t a place to run to when you get scared on the outside. It can be dangerous to rely on hospitalizations every time you feel depressed, scared, or angry. Hospitalizations are for emergency situations. If at some point during your recovery you require an inpatient stay in a psychiatric hospital remember that there is nothing wrong with asking for help!

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