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What Happens When You Are Hospitalized for Depression?

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Updated October 26, 2011

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you are experiencing severe depression symptoms, having thoughts of harming yourself or others, or your treatment just isn't helping, you may be considering hospitalization. Although this can be a frightening thought, you may find it less intimidating if you know what to expect from the process.

When You Should Go to a Hospital

You may wish to be hospitalized if you are having symptoms that are putting you or others at risk, such as suicidal urges, mania or psychosis. Hospitalization can also be helpful if you are finding yourself too ill to eat, bathe or sleep properly. In addition, your doctor may recommend hospitalization when you are making major changes in your treatment plan that require close supervision. Basically, hospitalization is appropriate anytime you need a safe place in which to receive intensive treatment until your symptoms stabilize.

Before You Are Admitted

Because you are probably feeling overwhelmed right now, you may want to ask a friend or family member to help you through the process of checking into the hospital and filling out paperwork. If possible, you or they should call ahead of time to find out about the hospital's rules and procedures and ask about what items you should bring with you. Information about visiting hours and telephone access will also be helpful.

What Happens When You Are Admitted

One of the first things that will happen is that you will be evaluated by a psychiatrist in order to determine an appropriate treatment plan for you.

Your treatment plan will probably involve work with a variety of mental health professionals, such a psychiatrist, a clinical psychologist, nurses, social workers and activity and rehabilitation therapists. You will most likely participate in individual therapy, group therapy or family therapy during your stay. In addition, you will probably receive one or more psychiatric medicines.

At this time, hospital staff will also take care of getting approval for your stay from your insurance provider. Your insurance company will periodically evaluate your progress during your stay to determine if you need additional time in the hospital. In the event that you are denied by your insurance company, you and your psychiatrist may appeal.

Your Rights As a Patient

You should be aware that if you sign yourself into a hospital, you also have the right to sign yourself back out. The exception to this rule, however, is if the hospital staff believes you are a danger to yourself or others. If you are not a danger to anyone, the hospital must release you within two to seven days, depending on the laws in your particular state. If you experience any problems with getting the hospital to release you, you should contact your state's protection and advocacy agency.

While you are at the hospital, you also have the right to be completely informed about all tests and treatments you will be receiving, including the risks and benefits of these. You have the right to refuse any tests or treatments that you feel are unnecessary or unsafe. In addition, you may refuse to participate in any experimental treatment or training sessions involving students or observers.

What Hospital Rules to Expect

Even though you may have been hospitalized of your own free will, the hospital will set rules to ensure your safety. You may initially be in a locked ward that you cannot leave at will. You may also have certain items that you could potentially use to harm yourself - for example, belts, razors and shoelaces - locked away.

You will be expected to follow a schedule for your meals, treatments, activities and bedtime.

You may have to share a room with someone else.

Expect to interact with several different staff members, some of whom may periodically check on you or interview you to assess your status.

Who Will Be Informed About Your Hospital Stay

With the exception of your insurance company, no one will be told about your hospitalization without your permission.

What Happens After You Are Discharged

After you are discharged from the hospital, your doctor may recommend a day-treatment program. This type of program will provide you with many of the benefits that you received during your hospitalization, such as psychotherapy and other services, but you may return home at night and on the weekends.

Steps that you can take to ensure your continued recovery include:

  • Keeping all your doctor appointments
  • Taking your medications as prescribed
  • Finding a support group
  • Taking care of yourself by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of sleep
  • Learning techniques to reduce stress
  • Being gentle with yourself and realizing that you are a work-in-progress

Preparing for a Future Crisis

Because depression tends to a chronic illness, it is wise to have a plan of action should you ever need to be hospitalized again. This plan should include the following:
  • Your doctor's name and contact information
  • Contact information for trusted friends, family or support group members
  • Information about any other health issues you might have, including a list of all medications that you take
  • A list of any allergies
  • A list of any medications you cannot take
  • Your insurance information
  • The name of the hospital where you prefer to be treated

You may also wish to have an attorney prepare an advance directive and medical power of attorney for you if you wish to give a trusted person the authority to act on your behalf in making medical decisions. This will ensure that your will is carried out should you become too ill to make your own decisions.

Source:

"Understanding Hospitalization for Mental Health." Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. 2004. DBSA. Accessed: October 24, 2011.

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