What Is It Like to Stay in a Mental Hospital?

I have stayed in a mental hospital twice: once for suicidal ideation in 2019 and once for a suicide attempt in August of this year. Both stays were similar in terms of treatment and activities. My first stay lasted seven days and my second stay was for eight days.

Shadow Self


I arrived and had to make sure my clothes had no strings or belts.  I brought new slip-on shoes that I called “Asylum slippers”, which turned out to be quite a hit with my fellow patients. The first day in a mental hospital is tough: you are dropped in a locked-down environment with little room to move and you have almost nothing of your former life to connect with.  Your cellphone is gone and you are only allowed to call out for a few minutes at a time.  There was no orientation or welcome- I was fortunate that another patient pointed out the schedule posted on the wall so I could see what to expect.  At my first bedtime, I felt despondent being away from my family and my routine.  I was alone; facing my depressed self and why I was there in the first place. 



I attended all the group therapy sessions.  They were mandatory, but many patients slept through them.  They handed out sleep aids like candy at both hospitals and they really knocked you out.  Group therapy was actually interesting as everyone in there had a different story to tell. Some were depressed and anxious with trauma thrown in, others were schizophrenics and off their meds.  The thing we all had in common was we all needed a lot of help, though, sadly, some of the patients couldn’t see that.  About half of the patients were in the hospital involuntarily, meaning their friends or family called the police to take them away.  Naturally, some of the these patients were too focused on their anger at the people who called the cops on them to work on their mental health problems. It made group therapy sessions an uphill slog because the poor therapists couldn’t do much for people who didn’t want to help themselves.  I most definitely wanted to help myself get better and I ended up talking between sessions to other patients who did as well.   

  Breakfast, lunch and dinner were the points of excitement during the day because we got to leave the unit, if only for a little while.  Breakfast tended to be an edible affair but the same could not be said of the lunches and dinners. I heard several other patients rave about the food at every meal, commenting that it was so much better than “prison food”.  That is when I realized many of my fellow patients had run-ins with the law.  Unmedicated and in some cases, undiagnosed, they simply couldn’t handle life and ended up in trouble with the police.  This is a reason why I believe that the police have no business getting involved in mental health crises.  Too many people that should be in the hospital end up in jail getting no help at all.


Right after we ate, the technicians escorted the smokers outside for a much-needed smoke break.  I was one of the few who didn’t smoke so I would take advantage of the common room being quiet and call home.  Each call I made was a desperate attempt to connect with my wife and somehow feel a little bit of the life that waited for me on the outside.  They were hard phone calls to make because even though I knew I needed to be in the hospital, I had a terrible longing to be out and it wouldn’t be any better when I got off the phone.  The regimented life in the hospital was rough in may ways, not the least of which was the clock-watching- each minute crept by as you waited on the next therapy session or food break.


You met with your psychiatrist for roughly 5 minutes at a time, every other day.  The doctor asked me how I was on a scale of 1-10, whether I had any suicidal thoughts, was I taking my meds and maybe another random question.  The one question every patient had for the psychiatrist was simple and critical: When will I get out?.   You couldn’t ask it too soon; you needed to be in for three or four days before you dared broach the topic with them.   Sometimes the doctor would be cagey and say “soon” or “a few days”.  What the desperate patient wants to hear is tomorrow morning, but you had to resign yourself to the fact that most people are going to stay for a week. Insurance, I suspect, has much more to do with how long you stay than whether or not the therapist and psychiatrist think you’ve made any progress.  At its heart, the mental hospital is out to make money off of you, not to make you better.  You have to take it on yourself to try to learn in the group sessions if you want to see improvement.


Everybody on the wing had to take medications, morning and evening, or both.  The lack of medication was the  reason for some of the patients to be in there to begin with so this process was critically important.  The nurses had to talk a few of the patients into coming to take their meds and I can imagine these are the patients who immediately went off of them when they got out.  I took mine, but the real help for me was talking in group about my issues.


  I finally worked up the courage to ask my psychiatrist when I was getting out and it was such a relief to have a day to look forward to in my mind.   I tried to stay focused on why I was there and not squander any opportunities I had left to learn something. I came out with a determination to not let depression rule my life. I had let if define me for years and I realized that I had not fought back hard enough against  it.  I still struggle somedays but the desire to get better, coupled with a hope to never go back in the hospital, keeps me going.

By jebrownwriter

Houston, TX-based Writer and Photographer. Proud pet rescuer who spends nearly all his money on them.

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