Psychiatric Hospitalization - 3 Things Families Need to Know

April 6, 2015 Becky Oberg

I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the first time in college. Because I went to an out-of-state university, my family was unable to help, so a friend took me to a psychiatric hospital. Both my family and my friend had concerns: How long was I going to be there? What was going to be done to keep me from committing suicide? What exactly could I expect? Here are three things families and friends need to know about psychiatric hospitalization.

Psychiatric Hospitalization Tip #1: No Long Commitments

My friend was concerned that my stay would not be mere days, but weeks or months. The admitting nurse told her, "The era of long commitments is over." I've heard that the average length of stay is four days. If you don't count the time I spent in the state hospital, the longest psychiatric hospitalization I've had was two weeks.

Psychiatric hospitalizations are hard on the individual and the family. Here are 3 things that families need to know about psychiatric hospitalizations.There's a joke that the unofficial policy is "Evaluate, Medicate, Vacate." As Homer Simpson once observed, "It's funny 'cause it's true!" The psychiatric hospitalization will probably not last long--just long enough for any danger to self or others to pass. While psychiatric medication takes weeks to get to the full effect, it usually starts making a difference within a couple of days.

Most hospital psychiatric wards are designed for short stays--one here in Indianapolis is designed to allow people to stay for up to 30 days. That's on the long end of the spectrum. So unless your loved one is going to a state facility, the stay will most likely be short. The era of long commitments is over.

Psychiatric Hospitalization Tip #2: Medication Management Is an Art and a Science

Your loved one may very well be dazed at first. Psychotropic medication is very powerful and takes some time to get used to. Because there is no blood test for which medication might be the most effective--yet--there's a lot of educated guessing that goes on. Medication management is as much art as science.

I've had some interesting experiences on medication during psychiatric hospitalization. One had me sleeping most of the time. Another caused wild mood swings and depression so severe that I was unable to move from the floor. That's why it's vital the patient be part of the treatment team--the staff need to know how the medication is causing the patient to feel so they can adjust it accordingly.

Because of confidentiality laws, staff will not be able to tell a family member how the patient is doing without his/her permission. That said, in a good hospital, they will listen to family feedback on how visits with your loved one are going. They will let you advocate for your loved one, to a certain extent. Families should seek to be informed about their loved one's mental illness, including how the medication makes them feel.

During one crisis, I was admitted to the psychiatric emergency room for three days. My mother complained that I was "just in a holding tank." Staff assured her that I was being treated and said, "Sometimes that happens." Families should be patient and flexible and consider the patient's well-being the highest priority--even when things seem to be going badly. Give it time--this process is as much art as science.

Psychiatric Hospitalization Tip #3: Your Loved One Will Probably Hate Psychiatric Hospitalization

My brother Dan's DUI (driving under the influence of a substance) lawyer, said that a DUI is like a spear wound to the stomach: you can't pull it out, you've got to go through it. Psychiatric hospitalization is much the same way. And going through it is not fun, even if it does save your life. So prepare for complaints from your loved one, especially if they're on suicide precautions (no one is a big fan of having staff watch them go to the bathroom).

I spent four of the worst months of my life in the dual diagnosis unit at a psychiatric hospital. But it kept me sober for three years. Psychiatric hospitalization is difficult, but it works. That's why we still do it.

Your loved one will probably hate it at first, and that's okay. Reassure him or her that while this is difficult, the rewards are worth it. Who wants to live with voices and suicidal ideation when medical treatment can improve things? Acknowledge his or her concerns, but keep telling the person that treatment works. There is hope, even in the midst of painful circumstances. As the old hymn says, "Where there's a shadow, there's a light."

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APA Reference
Oberg, B. (2015, April 6). Psychiatric Hospitalization - 3 Things Families Need to Know, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 19 from

Author: Becky Oberg

Kathleen Slattery
July, 21 2015 at 2:22 pm

I have had 4 involuntary hospitalizations in the psych units of regular hospitals, & I wish it were true that the objective is to have the patient in and out ASAP. But my own personal experience had not proved so. For example, this time last year was committed for a whole month; and except for the vocal objections from my spouse and children, the objective was to pass me on from there to State Hospital. Furthermore, I was subjected to Covert Medication, which is the administering of drugs such as Thorazine and Haldol unbeknownst to my family in lieu of my normal drugs. So correctly as you state, I remain extremely bitter and suspicious of the system. On an earlier occasion also, I was admitted wearing approx $2,000 of my precious jewelry, including my wedding and engagement rings. In my psychotic state, I gave all of my jewelry away....indicative of extremely poor supervision on the part of the staff. On that note, I do not advocate hospitalization to anyone, if in any way it can be avoided; based on my own personal experience in such.

July, 16 2015 at 5:37 am

My son has been in psychiatric units four times; three while he was a minor and a fourth when he was 19. We had very good communication the first three times, the fourth time the authorities wanted civil commitment so that he could have some long term care, but as far as I can tell, the judge ruled against it.We believe he is living day-to-day, but since he is legally an adult, no one would tell us the outcome and we couldn't find out where he was, or even if he really was released. I understand the need for privacy, but some people are not ready to make decisions on their own. Every day I wonder where and how he is. So parents, #4 is: if your child is over 18, you could lose them in the system.

Cheryll Markins
April, 16 2015 at 11:29 am

i think meds.i,e Xanax is to highly prescribed. It is very addicting and coming off it can kill you. Ban Xanax!!

Marti C
April, 9 2015 at 9:57 am

Our son has been hospitalized in state hospitals for over a month 4 times. Each time, he comes home and is stable for over a year.
The last time he had a manic episode, however, we couldn't find a way to get him admitted long term. A local policeman told us that in relation to long term hospitalization, since it is no longer available except for the state hospital, "Sometimes it is possible to get better treatment in jail than in a hospital."
This time, he committed a crime, after being in short term hospitals two separate times for 2 weeks each time. He was picked up and spent 2 months in jail in south Louisiana (we live in north Texas).
This traumatic experience was far worse than being in the state hospital for a couple of months!
We need long term hospitals available for some people, some of the time!

April, 9 2015 at 9:06 am

I've had several short term stays to aid me in managing a crisis.
I'm not allowed medication in the community at this stage so hospital provides an environment where I can take it.
It provides a chance to sleep semi normally
to interact with groups and staff who help in the moment when outside you would have harmed yourself.
I Can only speak for the hospital I've been admitted to but the focus was always patient becoming independent always and teaching them ways of coping.
Hospital is a very helpful tool for anyone however the effectiveness of any psychiatry tool is dependent on the willingness and readiness of the patient to change. Which unfortunately can only be controlled by themselves.

April, 8 2015 at 2:56 pm

I have had 4 times of hospitalization, 2 of which were for a month each and i found all of them to be very helpful. And even though I hope that I never need to go back, going in was the best thing that I ever did for my recovery.

Christina Kosak
April, 8 2015 at 7:07 am

It pisses me off but I agree with you. Its all very true. I went to the hospital my first time in high school and kept telling my parents & Dr I want out. I finally got my way the 7th day I was there. But I had to attend day treatment at their hospital. So I did. I fought & said I wanted out. Got my way the 7th day. But I had to promise to get a psychologist & psychiatrist so I did. I stopped my treatment & meds March 2013. But I need to go back to a psychy just to talk. No meds, just talk.

Margaret Shannon
April, 8 2015 at 6:11 am

We feel that our son's 11th stay in a psychiatric institution has left him distrustful of health professionals withdrawn with a sugar addiction and now a chain smoker. He derives little joy from life and I fear will enter a sad lonely life.
Psychiatry offers little but chemical restraints

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