7 Things I Never Knew About Staying In A Psychiatric Hospital — Until I Stayed In One

A few weeks ago, I was involuntarily hospitalized under Florida's Baker Act, which allows medical professionals or law enforcement officers to detain you for up to three days if they believe you're a danger to yourself or other people. It wasn't my first psychiatric hospitalization — I've previously had an inpatient stay after a depressive episode. That was back in 2013, and I left with a diagnosis of major depressive disorder and general anxiety disorder. Still, even if you think you know what it's like in a psychiatric hospital, the prospect of going is slightly terrifying because you're not exactly sure will happen. You're separated from your loved ones, you may have to share a room with a stranger, and you'll miss home fiercely.

There are things no one tells you about a psychiatric hospitalization, mainly because each hospital is different, and no two mental health units are the same. If you're facing an inpatient psychiatric stay, you may feel anxious and unsure of what to expect. Before I was first admitted, I had expectations along the lines of what Nellie Bly experienced at the asylum she infiltrated in the 1800s. Thankfully, neither of my psychiatric stays were anything like the stereotypes movies make them out to be, but there are things I wish I would've known beforehand.

It's Nothing Like A Typical Hospital Stay


Both of the times I've been hospitalized, I haven't been allowed to have my cellphone or any electronics. Additionally, I could only see my family during scheduled visiting hours. The rooms are bare with few decorations or amenities, and you aren't allowed to have anything that you could use to harm yourself. During my first stay, I wasn't allowed my bra because it had a metal underwire. This time around, it was dental floss that was forbidden.

The Schedule Is Super Structured

It's like summer camp, but for people struggling with mental illness! I'm only half-kidding. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served at the same time every day, and the lights go out at a specific time. In between meals, you'll have group activities that aren't required but recommended, like exercise or arts and crafts. If you have the energy to go, you should. It's a great way to pass the time.

You Can't Leave

Because of the nature of the psychiatric ward, you're confined to the unit while you're a patient. Both of the units I stayed in were locked. People couldn't wander in for safety reasons, but patients also couldn't leave. You can't just decide you're done receiving treatment and walk outside to freedom. Discharge is a lengthy process, and both a doctor and case worker have to agree you're ready to go home.

You'll Meet A Lot Of Interesting People

Because your loved ones can only stop in during visiting hours, you'll likely talk to the other patients when you get lonely. Psychiatric wards treat a variety of conditions, and you'll have people who are animated and loud sharing rooms with people who can barely get out of bed. During my last stay, I bonded with an older woman over our mutual distaste for the Trump administration, and we have plans to get brunch soon.

You'll Leave With A Treatment Plan

Once it's time for discharge, the case workers at the hospital will help you make doctor's appointments for the days ahead. You'll likely meet with a psychiatrist and a psychologist, and you may be asked to create a plan for what to do if you feel suicidal at home. They'll also give you worksheets with helpful coping techniques.

You May Not Feel Like Yourself Once You Get Out

It's been nearly a month since my most recent admission, and I still don't feel "normal." Even though I only spent five days in the unit, it's drastically impacted my energy levels and sleep cycle. I have nightmares where I have to go back for treatment, even though I wasn't mistreated. You'll have to give it time before things feel like they did before your hospitalization.

It'll Likely Be Worth It In The End

I still have a lot of doubts about whether I needed to be hospitalized, but I do know I needed some sort of care. Many hospitals that have psychiatric units provide acute care, which means they aim to get you stabilized and discharged. Sure, the time in the hospital may not be pleasant, but you'll leave with a new outlook on life and a plan for what to do if things get bad. Psychiatric stays aren't necessary for everyone, but they're a huge benefit for people who need immediate help.