What Is a Psych Ward?

Woman with head in her hands.

Carlo107 / Getty Images

Psychiatric hospitals are also commonly referred to as psychiatric wards or psych wards. These facilities are dedicated solely to mental healthcare and often provide treatment for patients with serious conditions such as psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others.

Psychiatric hospitals can offer a wide range of care, from inpatient to outpatient and day-treatment programs. The focus is on treating mental illness by providing psychiatric assessments, prescribing medications, and offering therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), supportive psychotherapy, and family therapy. In addition, psychiatric hospitals may offer other treatments to promote the mental well-being of patients including art therapy, music therapy, recreational therapy, and pet therapy.

Psychiatric hospitals are staffed by psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and other trained professionals who provide care for mentally ill patients 24 hours a day. Patients have access to their own rooms or suites as well as shared spaces to promote socialization and interaction.

What are the Different Types of Psych Wards?

Psychiatric wards are also sometimes called mental health wards or behavioral health wards. Regardless of the name, they're generally places designed to provide intense care for psychiatric patients whose needs cannot be adequately met in an outpatient setting. Although there are mental health facilities that focus on either children or adults, most psychiatric wards treat both groups.

In addition to psychiatric wards, there are also psych units or psych floors in many general hospitals that treat patients with psychiatric symptoms or mental disorders that require a shorter stay than what would be offered on a full-fledged psychiatric ward. These facilities typically provide around-the-clock observation and care by trained professionals who can also administer medications.

Psychiatric wards are different from mental health clinics in that they're generally institutions located in hospitals or medical centers for severely mentally ill patients. Most psychiatric wards provide 24-hour observation, care, and treatment that's administered by psychiatrists, licensed therapists, and other trained professionals.

Psychiatric wards also offer a much more intense level of care than what's provided in outpatient facilities. In fact, many psychiatric wards require that patients be admitted involuntarily because they cannot care for themselves or others due to their mental state. In this situation, a psychiatrist evaluates the patient and decides whether extended psychiatric treatment is necessary to stabilize the individual so that outpatient therapy can begin.

Why Would You Be Admitted to a Psych Ward?

Many psychiatric wards require that patients be admitted on an involuntary basis, meaning they may not leave the facility on their own. There are several reasons why a person might be admitted to a psych ward against his or her wishes, including:

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Physical harm to self or others
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Intense emotional distress or anxiety
  • Self-destructiveness or being unable to take care of oneself
  • Threatening the safety of others
  • Difficulty coping with one's environment, whether in the home or community
  • Having a mental illness that can't be managed in an outpatient setting

Involuntary psychiatric stays are generally reserved for those who pose a danger to themselves or others as a result of their mental health. These can also be used as an alternative to jail time in the case of repeat offenders whose actions were the direct result of their psychiatric symptoms, such as untreated schizophrenia or acute depression.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 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.

What Happens Once You're Admitted to a Psych Ward?

Once you're admitted to a psychiatric ward, you'll continue receiving treatment and care for your condition until you're stable enough to go back into the community. Patients are usually required to remain on the ward for several days up to several weeks, depending on their symptoms and progress.

While you're in a psychiatric ward, you'll receive an individualized treatment plan according to your condition. Because there are so many different types of psychiatric disorders, patients often receive treatments ranging from medication management to family therapy or group therapy sessions.

What happens if I'm admitted to a psychiatric ward? After you're admitted, you'll be assessed by a treatment team of medical professionals who will determine the appropriate course of action for your condition and symptoms. You may also undergo physical examinations and lab tests to help identify any medical problems that may be causing your symptoms.

You'll also meet with a psychiatrist who will discuss your psychiatric history and current symptoms in detail. After evaluating you, the doctor may prescribe medications to help ease your symptoms and make you more comfortable.

Can You Leave a Psych Ward?

In most cases, patients may leave psychiatric wards when they're no longer a threat to themselves or others. In some cases, however, doctors may decide that patients need to remain hospitalized for further treatment and monitoring before they can be released.

Also, keep in mind that many psychiatric wards have strict visitation policies. Typically, you won't be allowed to see anyone except immediate family members. Visits may also be restricted to certain time periods and supervised by a staff member.

Can You Be Restrained or Forced to Stay in a Psychiatric Ward?

Psychiatric wards can force patients to remain admitted for treatment if they're considered dangerous to themselves, others, or the safety of their environment. This is known as being "committed" or "involuntarily committed."

In most cases, a doctor must certify that you're a threat to yourself or others before you can be involuntarily committed. In order to do this, they must have clear evidence of your mental state and behavior to make the commitment without your consent.

Depending on the severity of your condition and the type of facility, you may be restrained with wrist or ankle cuffs to keep you from harming yourself or others. Patients can also be given physical and chemical restraints if they pose a threat to themselves and others, but only under certain conditions.

Psych Ward vs. Psychiatric Hospital

Although they sound similar, psychiatric wards and psychiatric hospitals are two different types of facilities. Psychiatric hospitals (or sometimes called mental health hospitals) provide long-term care for patients with severe mental illnesses that need close observation and medical attention.

Psychiatric wards, on the other hand, provide short-term inpatient psychiatric services for patients who require immediate evaluation and treatment for their condition. They are usually found in general medical hospitals or psychiatric hospitals, depending on the type of psychiatric services they offer.

A Word From Verywell

While being admitted to a hospital is always an emotional experience, you'll likely feel even more scared when it happens in a psychiatric facility. This can be due to the stigma surrounding mental illness or because of your own fears about what might happen during your stay. Because of this, it's important to find ways to relax and keep yourself comfortable during your hospital stay. Some psychiatric facilities offer yoga and meditation as part of their therapy services, which might help you feel calmer and centered during your hospitalization. Your doctor may also prescribe sedatives or anti-anxiety medication.

5 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.
  1. Vermont Department of Mental Health. Psychiatric Hospitalization.

  2. Røtvold K, Wynn R. Involuntary psychiatric admission: how the patients are detected and the general practitioners' expectations for hospitalization. An interview-based study. Int J Ment Health Syst. 2016;10:20. Published 2016 Mar 8. doi:10.1186/s13033-016-0048-8

  3. Abas M, Vanderpyl J, Le Prou T, Kydd R, Emery B, Foliaki SA. Psychiatric hospitalization: reasons for admission and alternatives to admission in South Auckland, New Zealand. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2003;37(5):620-625. doi:10.1046/j.1440-1614.2003.01229.x

  4. Sudarsanan S, Chaudhury S, Pawar AA, Salujha SK, Srivastava K. Psychiatric Emergencies. Med J Armed Forces India. 2004;60(1):59-62. doi:10.1016/S0377-1237(04)80162-X

  5. Ye J, Wang C, Xiao A, et al. Physical restraint in mental health nursing: A concept analysis. Int J Nurs Sci. 2019;6(3):343-348. Published 2019 Apr 20. doi:10.1016/j.ijnss.2019.04.002

By Arlin Cuncic
Arlin Cuncic, MA, is the author of "Therapy in Focus: What to Expect from CBT for Social Anxiety Disorder" and "7 Weeks to Reduce Anxiety."