Taken by Ambulance
Let’s be frank: to be 5150’d or to check yourself into a mental health hospital is one of the scariest things to do to save your life. But when done, it will make the difference between living and dying.
Let’s also be honest, I’ve never been in a mental health facility as a patient, but I did complete a 600 hour practicum in a local in-patient facility as a Therapist Intern Trainee for part of my Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology. I learned quite a bit from everyone there – patient and service provider.
Steps to Making the Most of Your Hospital Stay
*Work your program – There are four main parts to your therapeutic program.
1. Individual Therapy – There is not much better for your soul than 50 uninterrupted minutes of working with someone who cares, but is not a subjective part of your life. Your therapist is working hard, whether you believe it or not, to help you move to a place of mental good health. But if you don’t relate to your therapist, ask for someone else. There’s also nothing worse than being stuck in a room for 50 minutes with someone who doesn’t “get” you. You do however, have to meet them at least halfway in the process.
2. Group Therapy – I think as much can be learned from listening to others as from going to your own individual therapy. Hearing that you’re not the only one is sometimes liberating. But if you’re not very careful, you can be weighed down by the negativity of other clients. It’s time to listen carefully and be open to new perspectives.
3. Educational Therapy – This is where, if done right, shit gets real, because the therapist is there to teach you the strategies you need and the perspectives that will take you to a place of wellness. They are not there to placate you or anything else, but to give you frank and real tools you may need to overcome the blockages in your life that are holding you back from making progress.
4. Occupational Therapy – Too much of what I’ve seen is just crafts time. Even that, though, will help distract you for a short time from all the hard work you’ve been putting in with 2-3 hours of therapy every day. It’s time to do a little socializing, try something new, and consider that there are things you can do, no matter how simple, to make your life better.
*Be honest – As my psychiatrist once said to me,” If you can’t be honest with your psychiatrist, where can you be honest?” You can talk about what’s really going on with you – how you feel, how you perceive the world, it’s the only way your team is going to be able to implement a treatment plan to help you get back on track. It’s how meds decisions, types of therapy, and release dates are decided. They really are there to help you be safe for yourself and safe for others.
*Pack for the stay – You will need to bring, or have someone bring you some comfy and concealing pajamas, socks, toothbrush/toothpaste and perhaps some sweats to change in to. You will want to stay in your pj’s all day – don’t do it. The first step to getting well, is personal hygiene. You may not want to shower while there, but at least you can change from sleepwear to sweats for the day. No, strings, elastic or other potential self-harming elements are allowed, so remove those items upfront.
*Ask for visitors – Family therapy, though not mentioned above, is a great opportunity to teach close family members about your disorder or illness and how they can help you. If you don’t have anyone close you can call, ask for a religious provider to come visit you. You will feel better if you have a visitor on occasion. After all, you are there to be safe and feel better.
*Try to relax – If you were in any other hospital, you would remember that you are ill and are there to rest and recuperate from your cycle of illness. This is a time-out from the stresses of everyday life. Think of it, not as something being done to you, but as something you are doing for yourself. Rest, learn, and be an active participant in your treatment plan.
All the Difference
You will see a lot of people who are much more ill than perhaps you are, and you will see some that, to you, don’t appear ill at all. Remember: we’ve all become very good at concealing our pain and illness and looks can be deceiving. Treat everyone with respect and kindness and be tolerant of those who are not acting in the present moment.
And lastly, if you are thinking of self-harm, call for help. You may need a higher dose of medication, or around the clock watch. Even if you think you don’t have anyone in your life that needs you, there are a lot of people who could use your help. When you are released, think about how you can help others, whether it is to volunteer at a home for the elderly, at a soup kitchen, or for special needs children. Your life will be better when you learn the truth, that, no matter how bad you feel inside, you are capable of helping someone else. And that can make all the difference.