How To: Inpatient Stay


Inpatient care for mental illness is beyond stigmatized. It is almost demonized, at least where I come from.

When I was told I was being to a behavioral health center following my first overdose, I went into full panic mode. Every alarm was going off in my head and all I could say was no.

If you ever talk to Mariah, she’ll tell you how I clung to her so hard that I nearly pulled her shirt off. She can tell you all about how I sobbed and begged not to go. This was my worst nightmare coming to life.

I was transported by ambulance with an officer in attendance. I was very blunt with him about my distaste for his presence, but he told me something that saw me through my time in the hospital. When we arrived, I was a sobbing, shaking, anxiety-riddled mess.

He looked at me and said very softly and seriously, “Grab your blanket and pull it together. You are here to get better. Take advantage of it.”

So, I listened to someone else for the first time in weeks. I wrapped my green, fleece blanket around my shoulders and followed him inside. He said goodbye to me at the front desk when a psych tech came to escort me, and I watched him go, filled with panic. The psych tech – Mike, I think – walked me back to my unit and that is the moment I discovered a whole new world.

Here is my advice for your time in inpatient care:

  1. Pay attention to level systems – Most treatment programs assign level privileges based on behavior and participation. By attending my groups and complying with my treatment plan, I was able to work my way up from eating meals on the unit, to the cafeteria, going to rec. therapy, and then eventually I was moved to the more progressive unit.
  2. Go to groups – You’ll learn so much, I promise. Some will be boring and there will be times you honestly just want to stay in bed. If you go, though, you’ll start developing coping skills you need to function outside the hospital. The doctors will also take note and this was can help speed up your discharge date.
  3. Make a friend – Hell, make ten friends. The hospital can be a lonely place and no one knows this better than your fellow patients. Visiting hours are often odd and short, so it may be difficult to see family or friends. In order to help yourself and others, talk to other patients. I learned more from them than some of the doctors.
  4. Relax – the world outside the hospital walls does not matter right now. You are in this place to get better. Don’t fret over bills or social obligations. Allow yourself this time to get better.
  5. Color –  I spent the majority of my second hospitalization coloring. It kept my hands and and my mind occupied and kept me out in the common area rather than isolated in my room. It lightened my mood and even gave me a goal some days. It sounds silly, but it really works.

I know it seems daunting, but take it from someone who not only once was a patient in the psych ward, but now works in one. This will be good. You will learn and grow in ways you can’t outside of the hospital. If you need this level of care, don’t be ashamed. It exists for a reason and those of us working in these hospitals want nothing more than to help.

Be brave, speak up if you need help. Don’t be afraid. You will be just fine.

Head above water, okay? Remember, it’s okay to use floaties to stay up.



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