Do I need to go to the hospital?

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It’s common for people to go to the hospital because of a mental illness. Sometimes people go specifically because of what the hospital has to offer. Other times, it’s just the first place we think of when we are in crisis. Understanding what happens when you check yourself into a hospital can help you decide whether it’s the best option for you right now.

How can the hospital help with mental illness?

There are lots of reasons why people go to the hospital for mental illness. Here are a few:

  • To be monitored. Sometimes people experiencing mental illness feel like they can’t trust themselves. Maybe you can’t seem to stop hurting yourself or you are afraid you might hurt someone else. In a hospital, you are constantly being monitored by people who are trained to keep you and those around you safe.
  • To escape for a few days. Hospital stays for mental health are usually pretty short (from a few days to a week or two). But if your day-to-day life is stressing you out, a short break can go a long way for your mental health. While you’re at the hospital, meals are prepared for you, your laundry is done for you, and your meds are given to you by nurses at scheduled times. You don’t have to worry about any of that. It leaves time for you to think about what you’ll do once you’re back in the real world… or, you can just take that time to watch TV and lay in bed.
  • To get quick, comprehensive medical care. Meeting all your mental health needs can feel like juggling way too many things at once. There’s medication, therapy, lifestyle changes… not to mention your physical health. In a hospital, you can see specialists for all of those things—all in a single day! In the real world, scheduling appointments can be a hassle, and sometimes you need to wait to be seen. But in a hospital setting, you can get it all taken care of at once.
  • To set up aftercare. What happens when your hospital stay is done? Well, answering that question is actually part of your stay. If you need medications, you’ll be given refills and possibly even coupons to help you keep up with your meds once you’re on your own. The hospital can make referrals for a pharmacy, a therapist, and any other specialists you might need to see. Often the hospital can help pay for follow-up appointments, if you don’t have insurance that covers them.

What other options do I have?

A hospital stay can be helpful in many situations, but it also has its drawbacks. It’s not the best long-term solution—you’re not likely to walk away from the hospital completely cured. But it can be a great first step. In the United States, a hospital stay can also be expensive. Fortunately, there are ways to get financial assistance, so you shouldn’t let this prevent you from keeping yourself safe if it’s your best option.

Whether you decide to go to the hospital or not, it’s important to know that you have lots of options. If you’re in crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text “MHA” to 741-741 to talk to a trained counselor from Crisis Text Line. For a longer-term solution, you can schedule an appointment with a therapist or talk to your doctor about trying a medication. Joining a support group can be helpful. You can also improve your mental health on your own by learning more about mental illness, opening up to someone you trust, and making lifestyle changes.

Who decides whether or not I’ll go to the hospital?

In most cases, you’ll need to make that decision for yourself. The laws vary by state, but usually you can only be hospitalized against your will if you present a “clear and present” danger to yourself or others. In other words, it has to seem like you’re really going to hurt someone if you aren’t hospitalized. If that is the case, you might be checked into the hospital by a friend or family member, or a mental health professional like a therapist or doctor. But more likely, if one of those people is worried about you, they will try to convince you to check yourself in voluntarily.

In some circumstances, you may want to consider creating a Psychiatric Advance Directive before going to the hospital. This is a written legal document that expresses your wishes about what types of treatments, services and other assistance you want or don't want when you are having difficulty communicating or making decisions. You can also specify which facility you’d prefer to be taken to.

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