How to Admit Yourself Into A Mental Hospital

The first time I was admitted to the psych ward, I was 16. I was still a minor, so I had the benefit of boarding with the youth in the juvenile behavioral unit in the local hospital. I wasn’t prepared in the least for what I would see and encounter, nor was my mind in a state to readily accept this place.

Leading up to admission, I had the tell-tale behaviors of mania and depression. But at first, my family and I didn’t recognize these moods as symptoms of bipolar disorder.

While I waited for what seemed like hours in a hospital gown on a cold metal table in an ER admissions room by myself, Mom and Dad signed papers and consulted with the administration to see what could be done for my extraordinary outbursts and melancholy “suicidal” ideations—which, by the way, were not actually suicidal ideations or intentions.

I simply had a sense of my life being cut short—a symptom of manic paranoia—which the hospital interpreted as a threat of harm to myself or others. Another check on the list of criteria for admission.

How Long Is An Inpatient Stay?

An inpatient stay made sense for me. My behavior wasn’t making sense and my parents were afraid to leave me alone.

I had been seeing a psychiatrist but she was hesitant to diagnose me at such a young age for reasons of liability and caution, I think. She had met with us a few times prior, but because I now needed around-the-clock monitoring, she advised my parents to take me to the local hospital.

I was scared and confused. I didn’t realize where they were taking me—my symptoms were that bad. I had no concept of what a psych ward was and no clue that extended stays were possible. They told me I’d probably spend a long weekend there. It turned out to be three weeks.

The length of stay depends on your needs and can range from a few days to a few weeks and more. The amount of time you spend in an inpatient facility depends on your doctor’s recommendation.

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My stay was rough because of the illness, but good for me.

I don’t have regrets about the choices I made, or my willingness to go there, to begin with. It was the best place for me to be at that time, with the best help possible. Someone had to figure out what was wrong with me, as I clearly couldn’t. Bipolar disorder sort of snuck up on me at the height of my teenage years and hijacked my mind.

Bipolar Disorder: Finally A Diagnosis

The diagnosis took a while. In fact, I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was released from the psychiatric hospital after my three-week stay. The diagnosis came during consultations while I was being treated in an outpatient program.

The first time I heard the term “bipolar disorder” was the previous year, but I knew it was manifesting in me after speaking to my psychiatrist at the hospital when my symptoms emerged.

Finally being diagnosed was a relief. I think I knew all along that something wasn’t right.  I could sense I was sick before receiving the official diagnosis but I hadn’t been educated yet about mental illness. It felt good to know there was a reason my brain was malfunctioning and it wasn’t my fault.

What I Wish I Knew Before I Admitted Myself

I’ve had two inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations in my life—the first when I was 16 and in the juvenile ward. The second, when I was 24 and admitted to the adult ward. I’ve gleaned some wisdom that may be helpful if you are readying yourself to enter a behavioral unit:

  1. Bring your best advocate with you. It may be your spouse, parent, close friend, or relative—someone who knows you and is familiar with your situation.
  2. Breathe. Recognize that the staff wants to help you, not hurt you.
  3. Be patient. It’s a process—there are steps to go through and paperwork to be completed
  4. Once inside, advocate for yourself. The doctor will see you. Be honest with him.
  5. Your picture will be taken, and no, they are not stealing your soul.
  6. You will be in a secured unit, locked in. At times they let you out of the unit for visits or short excursions.
  7. Do your best to cooperate with staff and your fellow patients. It may be a while before you are discharged, so bear in mind you are there to get better. Plus, you’ll earn extra “points” for being polite and pleasant.
  8. Read your patient rights and understand them.
  9. Your personal belongings will be inventoried, so they will take out shoestrings, belts, hoodies, nail clippers, razors, and anything else deemed potentially dangerous.
  10. Don’t mind the eccentric behaviors of the other patients, they’re fighting a similar battle.
  11. Accept that the insides of the building may not be the most aesthetically pleasing. (That said, don’t concentrate on abstract paintings if they have them. Abstract art is a bad idea for psychotic symptoms).
  12. If you are in a state of psychosis, the TV may sound as if it’s calling your name. It’s not, but if the AV stimulation is too much, try to leave the room or focus on a different activity.
  13. Be mindful of the opposite sex (or the same sex if you’re so inclined). Establish personal boundaries and adhere to them; the psych ward is not a place to start a romance.
  14. Listen to the staff and don’t give them a hard time.
  15. Be friendly and polite. Remember, there are human beings here with feelings.
  16. Seek out a friend and get to know some people.
  17. Read.
  18. Give yourself time and space. You are on a journey to getting better and that takes time and space.
  19. Take a photograph in your mind’s eye. Journal about it. Capture the chaotic and colorful journey. Write about it. Express yourself. Get to know who you are at this time.
  20. Be kind, regardless. Don’t expect people to respect you because a.) everyone’s imperfect and b.) they can’t respect others if they don’t respect themselves.
  21. Challenge your mind and do a puzzle, but don’t read into it—it’s just a brain exercise.
  22. Take advantage of physical activity when there’s recreation time. Your body needs a physical outlet to help process the stress your mind is going through.

The admission and experience of staying in the psych ward was quite an adventure. I offer these pointers because knowing what I know now back then would have helped me get through the experience with less angst. While it was at times an unfamiliar and uncomfortable place to be, it was also the best place for me and worth it for my mental health.

Last Updated: Jul 26, 2021