Inpatient Mental Health


If you need inpatient mental health services, your journey typically begins in an emergency department (ED). Here, medical staff can monitor you safely until space becomes available at one or more psychiatric units or facilities – which could mean voluntary or forced admission.

People needing inpatient care often fear what it will be like. Popular culture often depicts this fear through images such as disturbed patients in straight jackets receiving barbaric treatments.

Getting Help

Concern among loved ones can arise when an ill family member or friend enters inpatient mental health care; even though this doesn’t have to be as dramatic an experience as seen on TV and movies, it does involve leaving home, being locked up, and having to remain somewhere that may trigger symptoms for them.

Inpatient care can be provided in various settings. This could include private psychiatric hospitals or general hospitals with an inpatient unit, residential treatment facilities, community mental health clinics, or even through referral from one’s therapist or doctor.

There are two forms of inpatient care: involuntary and voluntary. When faced with an imminent crisis, court systems or family members might force someone into psychiatric care by invoking court orders to protect themselves, prevent harming themselves, or leave before stabilization occurs. Conversely, voluntary inpatient mental health care typically exists only for individuals deemed dangerous to themselves or others. It might need to remain at a facility until it’s safe for release.

People admitted involuntarily for mental health treatment may find themselves either in a general or locked ward offering long-term treatment. Once there, they’ll have access to psychiatrists, nurses, pharmacists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers, and housing and support staff, as well as possibly having phone access (which may be monitored and limited at certain times of the day or restricted only for certain people at certain times of day). They might even have use of their phone – though such usage would likely be monitored closely).

Mental hospitals typically follow a daily schedule that includes meals, classes, individual and group therapy, and rest or recreation activities. There may be visitors’ hours for family members or friends, and in some facilities, family, and friends may even have phones available if requested by patients. Patients typically do not have computers in these facilities, so bringing books or items that will make the stay more pleasant will often make it less stressful.

Getting Admitted

Mental health conditions often respond well to inpatient treatment. This form of care requires patients to temporarily leave their usual environment and routine, usually following a strict timetable set forth by staff. Individuals considering inpatient treatment for themselves or a loved one should take the time to tour facilities, speak to alumni, and conduct other research so that they find an ideal program.

Voluntary or involuntary admission can occur in inpatient mental health facilities. A mental health professional typically decides upon automatic admission based on whether their symptoms threaten either themselves or others; alternatively, family members or police officers may request voluntary entry as well.

During a psychiatric hospital stay, individuals will be evaluated and diagnosed by psychiatrists or other mental health professionals and then given a personalized treatment plan that often involves medication and therapy as part of the plan. Residential or outpatient care may also be recommended if necessary – those deemed at risk of hurting themselves or others will also be put under suicide watch.

Once a patient is stabilized, they will be released from psychiatric hospital care and given help from therapists in finding their ideal treatment team if one was missing before hospitalization. Therapists may also refer patients to intensive outpatient programs or partial hospitalization programs for continued therapy after discharge from care.

Under inpatient care, patients typically participate in individual and group therapy sessions with their therapist. At these sessions, their therapist will help identify and understand symptoms while teaching them how to manage them daily. Group therapy sessions also can provide insight into others’ experiences.

An individual inpatient care will have a schedule for meals, classes, and personal, group, and family therapy sessions. Visiting hours typically exist during the week with limited opportunities on weekends for visits; when packing clothes to take with them on inpatient care visits, it is wise to leave behind any belts, strings, or items that could be used for self-harm purposes, such as belts.

Getting Into Treatment

When symptoms of depression or other mental health disorders become unmanageable, inpatient treatment may be the solution. What begins as a slight slump can quickly escalate and steal away all joy and hope, leaving you unable to cope and making life increasingly difficult to navigate. Depression may even become life-threatening if you harm yourself or others.

Law enforcement or family members may involuntarily commit the person. At the same time, you can also call a crisis hotline and talk with one of their counselors or therapists, who can determine if inpatient care is necessary and appropriate. They can also help you find a psychiatric hospital or local emergency department with psychiatric units based on your situation.

Inpatient care typically occurs in hospitals with either a dedicated psychiatric treatment unit or private facilities for mental illness. If appropriate, you’ll likely participate in individual, group, and family therapy sessions while receiving psychiatric medication. At the same time, clinical staff will collaborate on creating a comprehensive treatment plan when you leave hospital care.

As part of inpatient mental health treatment, you can anticipate having your symptoms lessen significantly, developing healthy coping skills, strengthening relationships, and learning to identify any triggers contributing to your struggles. Your team of mental health providers will oversee you carefully and make any needed adjustments to your plan; in some instances, a therapist may advise continuing ongoing therapy in the community post-hospital discharge.

Long-term inpatient facilities offer educational or vocational training programs to equip young adults with essential work and personal life skills that will allow them to reenter the workforce or college with confidence and an empowering sense of self-mastery that will serve them well in future endeavors. Though financial barriers may pose difficulty when seeking care in this way, insurance and other forms of aid may help ease that burden.

Getting Out of Treatment

As soon as a patient is ready to leave the hospital, their treatment team will develop a discharge plan, which may include follow-up visits with outside therapists. Medications may need to be adjusted, symptoms reduced and coping skills developed, or other therapies provided as appropriate; further medical monitoring may be required if there’s a risk of harming themselves or others; hospital staff can refer the individual directly or refer them to psychiatric clinics/residential programs in their community for ongoing support.

If you care for someone experiencing a mental health crisis, do not hesitate to seek assistance or advocate for inpatient treatment. By conducting your research and touring facilities, you may help them locate one that best matches their specific circumstances – effective programs may offer traditional, holistic, and alternative therapies while emphasizing whole health and wellness programs.

An unexpected mental health crisis can be terrifying, and the prospect of entering involuntary inpatient treatment for someone you care about can be distressing. But remember: automatic hospital stays exist solely to provide assistance rather than punishment. They may even offer lifesaving respite and the safe space necessary for stabilizing one’s condition and learning how to manage it long-term effectively.

Though the stigma surrounding psychiatric hospitals has diminished significantly, their presence can still be intimidating for those unfamiliar with what to expect. Most inpatient treatments take place in a designated psychiatric wing or unit within larger hospitals that resembles more of a college dorm than traditional hospital facilities, with private rooms for patients and common areas for eating and relaxing. During the hospital stay, patients will participate in group and individual therapy sessions designed to address what contributed to their mental health crisis as well as learn maladaptive behaviors they have learned.

Patients will develop coping skills and better understand how their illness impacts them. They will work closely with therapists to identify triggers and create a long-term treatment plan that prevents relapse once they return home. Depending on individual needs, patients could spend several days to weeks in the hospital.