Inpatient mental health treatment means that a person stays overnight in a hospital to get treatment for a mental illness. How long they stay depends on their symptoms. But it's usually for several days or longer.
It's common for someone to go to a mental health hospital for this treatment. Or they could get treatment at a general hospital that has a separate mental health department.
A hospital stay may be voluntary. This means that the person agrees to go to the hospital. Or it may be involuntary. In that case, the person doesn't agree to go.
If a person is a threat to themself or others, an involuntary stay may be needed. And an emergency hold may be placed on the person. This means that the person must stay at the hospital for a certain amount of time, usually 72 hours.
Why is inpatient mental health treatment done?
Inpatient treatment may be done if a person tries to harm themself or others. A person also may go if they have mental illness symptoms, such as seeing or hearing things that aren't there. Or they may go if they are very depressed. Sometimes treatment is done to help people start or adjust medicines.
How is it done?
Treatment can look different in each hospital. But in general, here's what you can expect if someone has inpatient care. It can include:
- A treatment team. Medical doctors, counselors, social workers, nurses, and medical aides are usually part of this team.
- A treatment plan. It may include a review of the person's symptoms or a diagnosis. It also can have treatment options, like medicines and group counseling.
- A medical exam. The person may be checked for other health conditions. This could include having their blood drawn or giving a urine sample.
- Confidentiality. A person's care is private. But they can sign a release form that gives their treatment team permission to talk to others, such as family members. If the person is under 18 and you're their parent, you may be able to ask about their care without this form.
- A discharge plan. It outlines the care someone needs after they leave the hospital.
How can you give support?
If you're caring for someone who's in treatment, whether it's your child, parent, friend, or partner, here are some ways you can offer them support.
- Share with their treatment team what you know about the person's illness.
You could talk about their symptoms, the medicines they take, and what's helped them in the past. You can share these things even if the person doesn't sign a release form.
- Ask about the hospital's rules.
For example, most hospitals have rules about visiting hours, the number of visitors, phone calls, and what personal items you can bring to someone.
- Be understanding of the rules.
Some of the rules may feel strange at first, but they help keep patients safe. For example, you may need permission from hospital staff to enter or leave the hospital because it's always locked. And you may not be allowed to have your phone during visits.
- If you have worries, avoid talking about them to the person who's in treatment.
For example, don't bring up the cost of their care. And avoid sharing any difficult feelings you may have about them being in the hospital, like guilt or sadness. Instead, you may want to talk to a close friend, spiritual leader, or counselor.
- Be positive about the help they are getting.
When someone is in treatment, it may feel stressful to you and to them. Giving support and being hopeful may help you both feel a little better.
- Ask about the discharge plan.
It will include things you may want to know. For example, it could have where the person is going to live, doctor and counselor appointments, and a list of medicines.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine