What Happens When You Are Hospitalized for Depression?

How to Know When It's Time to Check Yourself In

Sad woman at hospital

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If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911. 

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

If you're experiencing severe depression symptoms, having thoughts of harming yourself or others, or your treatment just isn't helping, you may consider checking yourself into a hospital. Although this can be a frightening thought, you may find it less intimidating if you know what to expect from the process.

When You Should Go to a Hospital

You may choose to be hospitalized if you're having symptoms that are putting you or others at risks, including:

Hospitalization can also be helpful if you're finding yourself too ill to eat, bathe, or sleep properly. In addition, your doctor may recommend hospitalization when you're making major changes in your treatment plan that require close supervision.

Hospitalization is appropriate any time you need a safe place in which to receive intensive treatment until your symptoms stabilize.

Before You're Admitted

Because you're probably feeling overwhelmed right now, you may want to ask a friend or family member to help you through the process of checking into the hospital and filling out paperwork.

If possible, you or they should call ahead of time to find out about the hospital's rules and procedures and ask about what items you should bring with you. Information about visiting hours and telephone access will also be helpful.

What Hospital Rules to Expect

Even though you may have been hospitalized of your own free will, the hospital will set rules to ensure your safety, including:

  • Initially being in a locked ward that you cannot leave at will 
  • Having certain items that you could potentially use to harm yourself (for example, belts, razors, and shoelaces) locked away
  • Following a schedule for your meals, treatments, activities, and bedtime
  • Sharing a room with someone else

When You're Admitted

One of the first things that will happen is that you will be evaluated by a psychiatrist in order to determine an appropriate treatment plan to meet your specific needs.

Your treatment plan will probably involve work with a variety of mental health professionals, including:

You will most likely participate in individual therapy, group therapy, or family therapy during your stay. In addition, you will probably receive one or more psychiatric medicines.

Hospital staff will also take care of getting approval for your stay from your insurance provider. Your insurance company will periodically evaluate your progress during your stay to determine if you need additional time in the hospital.

In the event that you are denied by your insurance company, you and your psychiatrist may appeal.

Your Rights as a Patient

Note that the criteria and rules surrounding voluntary hospitalization (you check yourself in) differ greatly from involuntary hospitalization (someone else checks you in). In the case that you sign yourself into a hospital, you also have the right to sign yourself back out.

The exception to this rule, however, is if the hospital staff believes you are a danger to yourself or others. If you are not a danger to anyone, the hospital must release you within two to seven days of your formal request, depending on the laws in your particular state.

If you experience any problems with getting the hospital to release you, you should contact your state's protection and advocacy agency.

While you are at the hospital, you also have the right to...

  • Be completely informed about all tests and treatments you will be receiving, including the risks and benefits
  • Refuse any tests or treatments that you feel are unnecessary or unsafe
  • Refuse to participate in experimental treatment or training sessions involving students or observers

With the exception of your insurance company, no one will be told about your hospitalization without your permission.

After You're Discharged

After you are discharged from the hospital, your doctor may recommend a day-treatment program. This type of program will provide you with many of the benefits that you received during your hospitalization, such as psychotherapy and other services, but you may return home at night and on the weekends.

Continuing Your Recovery

Treatment for depression doesn't end with hospitalization. Steps that you can take to ensure your continued recovery include:

  • Keeping all your doctor appointments
  • Taking your medications as prescribed
  • Finding a support group
  • Taking care of yourself by eating well, exercising, and getting plenty of sleep
  • Learning techniques to reduce stress
  • Being gentle with yourself and realizing that you, like everyone else, are a work-in-progress

Crisis Plan of Action

Because depression tends to be a chronic illness, it's wise to have a plan of action should you ever need to be hospitalized again. This plan should include the following:

  • Your doctor's name and contact information
  • Contact information for trusted friends, family, or support group members
  • Information about other health issues you might have
  • A list of all medications that you take (and cannot take)
  • A list of any allergies
  • Your insurance information
  • The name of the hospital where you prefer to be treated

You may also have an advance directive and medical power of attorney prepared for you if you wish to give a trusted person the authority to act on your behalf in making medical decisions. This will ensure that your will is carried out should you become too ill to make your own decisions.

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6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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