Communication General

35 Things About Psychiatric Hospitalizations – What I Learned…

I spent many years terrified of being hospitalized for bipolar disorder. I would do absolutely anything to avoid it, and my psychiatrist worked with me to find alternatives. About 10 years ago, a mood disorder unit opened at the hospital my psychiatrist works at, and this made things less frightening. I knew my psychiatrist would be able to remain involved in my treatment.

I began to feel more comfortable with the idea, and in 2009 I was admitted for the first time. This time it was to change medication, and before I did, I had to completely be off antidepressants before starting it. Being hospitalized allowed me to do this more quickly, and safely. So far, I’ve been admitted for suicidal thoughts twice, treatment for a reaction to medication which caused a movement disorder that left me in constant motion. Hospitalized another time because I didn’t respond well to my usual medication, and this February 2016 for a change to this medication to another anti-psychotic med.

Since that first hospitalization I have had four more. I’ve now spent over 40-days in-patient, and have become quite comfortable in this setting. I’ve learned many things, and thought I would share some of them with you.

Some are things I found helpful, and some are things which I was surprised to learn. They are presented in no particular order.

1. When you are feeling really bad, it can be a huge relief to arrive in the psychiatric unit. I’ve found I feel better once I get there, and know that I am finally safe.

2. Psychiatric ERs can be very crowded, especially on weekends. I spent 30 hours waiting for a bed when I was admitted in August.

3. Here’s a cool trick: If you have a motion detector sink, and are struggling to keep the water running while brushing your teeth, cover the motion sensor on the faucet with wet paper towel. Blocking the sensor will keep the water flowing freely. It’s important to be careful at the same time, so the water doesn’t get too hot.

4. The concept of “Trash Can Liners” have been installed on the psychiatric floors to keep people from using the bags to harm themselves. They are made from paper “Kraft” material.

5. Phone calls are free. I didn’t know this the first time I was admitted, and took a prepaid calling card which I still haven’t used. From what I was told, the patient has a right to make calls, and on my unit, you can dial locally on your own, however long distance they dial for you.

6. There usually isn’t individual therapy. I originally thought having individual therapy with someone I’d never met would be weird, then WITHOUT it, I really missed my therapist while I was hospitalized.

Before continuing, here’s a motivational quote:

“Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” – Anthony Robbins

7. If you feel that missing therapy isn’t going to help, ask if you can do a phone session with your therapist. I’ve been allowed to do it several times from a conference room. It definitely helped a great deal.

8. Don’t leave your toiletries in the group bathroom if you don’t want to share.

9. You can do laundry on the unit, and only need about 3 days of clothes with you. They even provide soap.

10. No matter the season, it’s probably going to be cold so take warm clothes.

11. You have to remove drawstrings from clothes before you are admitted. Some can be removed with very little effort, and some are sewn in so require more time. With these, you can take the seams apart to remove them, and then fix them later, or can just cut the ends if you won’t miss the drawstrings.

12. If you are on any unusual medications or birth control pills, you might have to provide these meds yourself. For example, I take an inhaler, and they never seem to stock it.

13. Watch what you eat. The meals vary in nutrition, and you’ll probably get very little exercise. Make sure you eat some healthy stuff along with the desserts. I’ll try to eat 2 servings of vegetables at each meal.

14. Some people work in the psych units, but are clueless in dealing with psychiatric patients. I once started crying, and couldn’t stop. After an hour the tech saw me, and paused to suggest a joke might help. However, they didn’t get a nurse for me which is what I desperately needed at that time.

Before continuing, here’s a motivational quote:

“The secret of success is learning how to use pain and pleasure instead of having pain and pleasure use you. If you do that, you’re in control of your life. If you don’t, life controls you.” – Anthony Robbins

15. It’s possible to hurt yourself while inpatient. I am not going to say how, but was surprised when I was hospitalized with someone who was doing this. I thought it would be so much harder while in the hospital. I guess harder doesn’t mean impossible.

16. Having a roommate can be scary, but most of the people you’ll meet are like you, and in your situation.

17. If you have an issue with your roommate it’s important to talk to a nurse. My roommate was sexually inappropriate with her boyfriend, and I was really upset, but didn’t tell anyone so it just kept happening.

18. Some people really like the hospital. I had one roommate I ran into 5 times since I’ve been there. She is in the hospital several times a year. I can’t figure out why she enjoys being there, but think she might like the attention it gets her.

19. You run into all different types of people, and it’s important not to always believe everything other patients tell you. A roommate once gave me 3 very different answers in 2 days to the same question.

20. Different nurses will allow you to have different belongings. If you feel like something was taken from you unfairly, then ask on the next shift. However, don’t say:

“They wouldn’t let me have ______”.


“I brought a bag of toiletries, may I keep it my room”

21. Bed assignments can be more complicated than you think. I always assumed that rooms were assigned based on space only but I learned that safety is big factor in where you are placed, even on a unit for people considered relatively safe as my unit is. For example, my last hospitalization I was not allowed to move to the private room everyone agreed I needed because the private rooms are more secluded and the nurses wanted me to be where there were staff members nearby (in my case right outside my room) most of the time. However, the nurses did prevent me from getting a roommate to meet my very real need to be alone when I was at my most ill.

22. Some people might not be in the hospital for the reasons they’ve stated. I was in the hospital once with someone who was bragging they had gotten admitted by exaggerating their personal problems. It turned out, they faked suicidal thoughts to prevent testing positive on a drug test administered by their probation officer.

23. What your allowed access to varies dramatically in different psychiatric hospitals. I’m also thinking much of what your allowed will depend on your state of mind during your stay. For example, my unit provides a computer with internet access, but for others, no personal electronics are allowed.

My hospital is strictly non-smoking, and psychiatric patients can only have caffeine with a doctor’s approval. This is usually once daily. Other psychiatric hospitals allow personal electronics, and smoking with very little supervision.

24. Never give up on a therapy before you’ve tried it. I did not think I would like or benefit from art therapy but it was actually so helpful that I tried to find an art therapist who worked with adults to continue the treatment as an outpatient after I left the hospital. Unfortunately, I was unable to locate anyone but my therapist has incorporated drawing and art projects into therapy at times since then and it has always been a good way for me to communicate what is too hard to say.

25. Some of the staff feel it’s their job to be confrontational. This can be intimidating at times, and you have to remember the whole situation is quite sensitive. Many times the staff will be right, and other times the patient. If something doesn’t feel right, then just ask your therapist.

26. You can make very good friends while inpatient. It varies how often people will stay in touch after leaving, but some people do for a long time. This can be an awesome support column for you while battling bipolar.

27. You are there to rest but nights can be hard. There are bed-checks every 30 minutes where they open the door letting light in and it seems that roommates are mostly admitted in the middle of the night which results in being awakened. I have learned to ask for a bed near the window if possible as it is a little darker there. I also take earplugs to help if it is noisy (or if my roommate snores!) and my hospital will loan patients white noise machines which also help.

28. Weekends can be very boring. My hospital does one group therapy session on Saturday mornings, and then nothing until Monday. It’s always good to ask for extra ART supplies to be left out if possible. I’ve done lot of collages on the weekends to help pass the time.

29. If you are in the hospital with someone who has been there before, it’s important to ask them questions. They can provide enormous support, and answer questions which will make your life easier.

30. Take somethings to distract you, or have someone bring them to you when they visit (which is the best option). For example, I’ll take books, puzzles, a deck of cards. This time I also took herbal tea, and dried prunes/apricots (because constipation is likely).

Before continuing, here’s a motivational quote:

“To effectively communicate, we must realize that we are all different in the way we perceive the world, and use this understanding as a guide to our communication with others.” – Anthony Robbins

31. Make sure your medication orders are written EXACTLY the way you’ve been taking medication at home. The last two times I was hospitalized, my major sedative was divided in ½ (Once in the morning, and once at night). I was supposed to take the entire dose at breakfast. Both times I had to refuse taking medication because this type of dosage pattern would conflict with what was prescribed by my psychiatrist.

Be very detailed, and specific with the admitting doctor so your medication is given on schedule just like at home.

32. Never hesitate to question why, when or what medication you’re being given. Hospitals can make mistakes while administering medication to patients, and you don’t want to be given the wrong meds. The nurse will have to pause, and verify before giving it to you.

33. During my last hospitalization I was too sick to leave my room for several days, and lots of people were wondering why I wasn’t participating. New patients can find it rude, and will even get upset because you DON’T participate. It’s important to be vocal, and explain to them what your current state of mind is at all times.

As a group, you are all depending on each other for support so let them know why you can’t help.

34. Never hesitate to ask for the television to be turned down. If someone refuses to turn down the TV, and it’s keeping you awake, you can ask the nurse for help.

I was once in this situation, and the nurse was very helpful. They are always to keep things calm within the unit because it’s the best scenario for patients.

35. Remember you’re NOT going to be in the hospital forever. When things aren’t going well, it’ll often feel like you’ve been there forever, and this can be hard to handle. Your current situation isn’t forever, and you’ll get better with the help of professionals.

If you have any questions about psychiatric hospitalizations, please ask them in the comment box below. I’ll try to answer them as soon as possible. 🙂

Grace Lyons
Grace Lyons
I am an occupational therapist now on permanent disability. I worked about 50% of my career with other psychiatric patients. Diagnosed in 2002 after many years of treatment for depression, anxiety and PTSD. I have 2 cats, love to read, knit and sew.