How to Survive a Stint in the Mental Hospital

 

 

hospital
A picture of San Juan Regional Medical Center. Credit to flickr.com user teofilo. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

A stay in a mental hospital can be a frightening thought. Some patients may be a danger to themselves or others. People are hospitalized in psychiatric wards for a variety of reasons. Some may suffer from depression. And still others may endure anxiety disorders, mania, or any other number of mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or postpartum psychosis.

But what about you? How do you survive a stint in the mental hospital, if you need one? Let’s dig in.

Deal with Potential Anger

When starting out your stay in a psychiatric ward, you may find yourself angry. If you’ve been involuntarily committed, you may not believe that you deserve to be there. Even if you do believe you deserve to be there, anger is a common emotion to feel when hospitalized, especially in the first few days. The nurses should be aware of this and will prevent violent interactions between patients, but will largely ignore your outbursts otherwise.

Because the nurses are ignoring your potential anger, you will have to handle it yourself. So now that you know you might have some anger to process, how do you deal with it? Here are some steps that can help:

  • When you feel the first stirrings of anger, try breathing deeply through your nose. (For a technique for deep breathing, click here.)
  • Create a calming and positive mantra, and repeat it to yourself. Try something like, “chill,” “relax,” or “take it easy.” Repeat this to yourself until you feel the anger ebb.
  • Wait to express yourself until after the initial rush of adrenaline has passed, and do so in a calm and appropriate manner. Try to be assertive rather than angry.
  • Keep a journal of what makes you feel angry and why, and try to avoid those triggers.
  • Listen to those around you. Practicing good listening skills can help clear up disagreements before they start.
  • If another patient is trying to get your goat, then walk away, and alert the nurses. Disengage as quickly as you can.

Calm acceptance of your stay in the mental hospital will come in time, unless the anger is a deep-rooted issue. Handling conflict properly with other patients and the hospital nurses is very important. If you don’t deal with your anger, you’ll create problems for everyone involved.

Make Friends

In a mental hospital, you will may be bored and lonely. Some wards don’t allow internet access or phone use, so you might be completely cut off from the outside world. One of the best ways to cope with this problem is to make friends with the other patients. Try to be open to starting new friendly relationships with people. It may relieve you of your boredom and even speed your recovery, because having someone to cheer you on is always good. You’re all in this together.

Even though making friends is good, people can become too close. Nurses are instructed to break apart people who grow too chummy. For example, during my own stay in a mental hospital, I made a friend with whom I became quite codependent. Every time she left the room, I wondered if she was abandoning me. My doctors instructed me not to make my emotional health dependent on her.

That is why establishing healthy boundaries with others is so important. If you don’t want to lend out your personal items, then decline politely whenever someone asks. And don’t tolerate abuse from people either. If they don’t stop hurting you when you ask, be it emotional or physical harm, walk away and alert the nurses.

Note: While making friends is advised, starting a romantic relationship is not. Needless to say, a stay in the hospital is emotionally charged. You’re there to stabilize and recover, and you’re not at your best self. Neither is any other patient. You might find yourself in a whirlwind romance, which won’t benefit either of you. Your ultimate goal is to improve and be released, and a romantic attachment may hinder that.

Fall in Line

Psychiatric wards have a lot of rules. You may receive a tour of the hospital explaining what most of these guidelines are. Pay attention to what the nurses and doctors say with regard to your behaviors and treatments. Make sure you know what expectations are placed on you so you can be released, possibly earlier than expected.

In addition to general rules, there are basic steps you can take to get released. Comply with your individual treatment plan. Attend all the therapy and crafting sessions, and take your medication as prescribed. If you disagree with the treatment plan, talk to your doctors. A willingness to discuss things rationally is better than outright refusal.

You might think, like I did, that the doctors are out to get you or that they’re incompetent. You might believe that they want to keep you in the hospital forever, because it pads their bottom line. I can assure you that that’s not the case. They want you to recover. Talking with them will help both you and them.

You won’t recover until you’ve stabilized, which the medication and therapy is intended to help with. Your doctors have years of experience under their belts, treating all manner of mental illnesses and substance abuse problems. They know what they’re doing, and they really do have your best interests at heart. You don’t need to like them, just work with them.

Conquer Boredom

Having your daily routine interrupted by a stay in the hospital will be very difficult. And without the challenges of work or school, you may end up facing extreme boredom. You will have a lot of time to think, and you might not want to get wrapped up in your thoughts. Try constructive ways to fill your time, such as:

  • Exercise. Studies have shown that there are very beneficial effects of working out for your mental health, especially people suffering from bipolar disorder. Ask the nurses if there is an open space where you can get your heart pumping. Jogging in place, doing a few crunches, and trying some pushups for a few minutes is all you really need to do, especially if you’re largely sedentary outside the hospital.
  • Reading. Most psychiatric wards own books and magazines available for the patients. Mine had old copies of Reader’s Digest. If you have friends willing to come visit you, ask them to bring reading materials.
  • Crafting. You will likely be assigned a crafting or skill-learning class. Take notes and learn how to craft the presented item or perfect the taught skill. Why? It might sound stupid, but creating a handprint turkey is better than being bored.
  • Doing crossword puzzles or coloring pages. If possible, ask the nurses to print some of these out for you, or your friends to bring some.

Final Thoughts

A stay in the mental hospital doesn’t have to be a disaster. If you deal with your anger, handle interactions with others appropriately, comply with treatment, and fill your time with constructive activities, you can ensure that you’ll make the best of your stay.

Good luck!

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Author: Cassandra Stout

Hi! My name is Cassandra Stout, and I am a freelancer and memoirist who blogs at The Bipolar Parent (Cassandrastout.com/bpparent) and at the International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF.org). My current project is Committed, my upcoming memoir that depicts my time spent in a psych ward after a postpartum psychotic breakdown. I am a ten-year member of a five-person critique group called the Seattle Scribblers. It's nice to meet you!

8 thoughts on “How to Survive a Stint in the Mental Hospital”

  1. Cass, can you ghostwrite my blog???? Or my next book, for that matter?

    p.s. I live near the 2 “dog kennels” where I spent so much time and drive by each of them on a weekly basis.

    The Naked Eyes song “Always Something There to Remind Me” comes to mind.

    I’m grateful for every day I wake up in my own bed!

    1. I can certainly try, Dyane, though I think you’d do a better job of writing your blog and book than I would! I’m sorry you live by those hospitals, and are reminded of your time there on a daily basis. That’s rough! I hope that you can shrug off those old memories. Take care of yourself, dearest friend, and give yourself a pat on the back from me!

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