Psychiatric Hospitals & Wards

What happens in psychiatric hospitals and wards?

Psychiatric hospitals and wards specialize in treating people who are experiencing a variety of different mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia, anxiety and eating disorders.

Psychiatric hospitals and wards can be part of a larger hospital or located in a smaller building like a clinic.

Many people find spending time in a psychiatric hospital a very helpful way to:

  • Rest and reflect
  • Find out what is happening emotionally and why
  • Stabilize medications they might be taking
  • Get intensive treatment from doctors and other health professionals with specialist training, like nurses, occupational therapists, social workers and psychologists

Voluntary and Involuntary Admission

A voluntary admission is when a person enters a psychiatric hospital at their own request or at the suggestion of a doctor, parent, or guardian. This can be at a time when that person feels they need some extra support. Voluntary admission can be organized by the person who is being admitted or by a doctor, parent, or guardian.

There are times when a person becomes so ill that they are at risk of hurting themselves or others and hospitalization becomes necessary even though the individual does not wish to enter a hospital. This is called an involuntary admission. This occurs when someone else has recognized that the person is imminently a danger to themselves or others. In most states, police officers and designated mental health professionals can require a brief commitment of an individual for psychiatric evaluation. If the individual is evaluated and needs further hospitalization, a court order must be obtained.

Where are psychiatric hospitals located?

You might find it difficult to research psychiatric wards and hospitals over the Internet, but your medical doctor or psychiatrist should be able to recommend one that will suit you best.

Some are privately run, while others are within larger hospitals. Some might also have a limited number of places available, while others may only admit people at certain times of the year.

Things you might consider when choosing a psychiatric hospital is the cost, program (including any restrictions in activity and other policies), size and length of stay.

How much will it cost to stay at a psychiatric hospital?

The cost of a stay in a psychiatric hospital or ward varies widely. Some run on donations or require a very small fee, while others are privately run and expensive. You or your parents might be able to claim back some of costs through private health insurance or through federally funded health insurance programs. 

How much time do people spend in psychiatric hospitals?

The length of stay depends on a variety of factors. These can include what you are being treated for, the type of treatment you need and what your doctor decides will help you best. Most stays are short-term.

It’s common that programs will run for a set period of time, and most people stay for the duration of that period. Involuntary patients may have the length of time set by a judge. After that set amount of time expires, a doctor will usually decide if further treatment is needed. Sometimes, the judges and doctors will not agree and a lawyer might need to get involved.

What happens in the psychiatric hospital?

Upon arrival at the hospital, a patient will have a consultation with a doctor.  The doctor will give an assessment of the situation a patient is in, and tell him or her a bit more about how everything works. If you’re a patient, this is a good time for to ask any questions you might have about your treatment or what you should expect. Depending on state law, you might get a second opinion from another doctor early on in your stay.

During your stay, the activities you take part in will vary depending on what your goals are. They might include:

  • Group work. This is a group discussion with other patients that is facilitated by a social worker, nurse, doctor, psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor.
  • Individual therapy. This is one-on-one counseling with a social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist or counselor.
  • Personal time. You’ll probably find that you have a lot of time to yourself during your stay. How you fill this time is up to you, but it might include interacting with other patients, doing work or studying if you feel able, or just chilling out and reflecting. Depending on the hospital and your needs, you might have your own room, or you might have to share with others. You might also be allowed to bring your own books, phone and music. 
  • Visitors. Many hospitals have set visiting times so you can see family and friends. You might also be allowed to go home during weekends.


Unless it is an emergency situation, you can work with your psychiatrist on deciding whether medication should be part of your treatment. Medication might include antidepressants, sedatives, antipsychotics and occasionally electric shock treatment for very severe mental illnesses. Just because a person is on more or less medication than you doesn’t mean that you are any better or worse than they are. 

What to Do If You’re Unhappy With Treatment

If you’re unhappy or unsatisfied with any part of your treatment, it’s important that you talk about it with your doctor or psychiatrist. They may not realize you’re unhappy unless you say something. You might then discuss ways to adjust your treatment so you’re getting the best possible outcome. If you continue to be unhappy with your treatment, you have the right to ask for a second opinion.

Dealing With Fears About Going Home

You might look forward to going home, or you might feel scared or nervous at the thought of leaving the hospital. You might be scared that things will go back to the way they were, that you’ll be alone, or that you won’t be able to cope with the added pressures of home, like chores, work and school. The first few days at home can be tough. If you’re having a rough time, it’s important to make use of the supportive people you have around you. Try to identify people that you can talk to or call when you are having a hard time, like friends, family or a counselor. You might want to set this up before you leave the hospital.

It might also help to arrange activities before you leave the hospital so you have something to look forward to and to make you feel less alone. It’s a good idea to investigate and list these activities before leaving the hospital so that supports are in place before returning home, making the transition a little easier and less overwhelming. Hospital staff or a community mental health team member can assist you in doing this.

You or your doctor might also arrange for you to attend an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) as a way to transition from hospital to home. IOPs meet three to five days per week, for three to eight hours at a time. Like a hospital, you do a variety of work, including group and individual meetings, art therapy or recreational activities. Unlike a hospital, you go home at the end of the day. An IOP might also be an option if you aren’t able to find a hospital that can help you, or if you want a treatment option that is in-between outpatient therapy and inpatient hospital stay.  

Acknowledgements: This article was originally developed by youth and staff for

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