Have you lost all control in your life, or does it feel that way? For people with a chronic mental illness, the hospital can be an excellent tool to regain a sense of power and mastery over one’s symptoms. Sometimes people are hospitalised so often that they cannot remember each admission, or they may be traumatized and instead would not recognize the experience altogether. There are many perspectives, feelings, stigmas, and thoughts people with and without diagnoses have on inpatient psychiatric hospitalisation.
Hospitalization and inpatient admission is not a fun topic but an important one to have sooner rather than later. Knowing when hospitalization is necessary is not the first step in giving up the fight against mental illness. It is the first step you can take toward your recovery.
People with a mental health diagnosis should not fear the hospital. The same is true for the need for medical treatment in a local community hospital. Accessing the right level of care for any health condition is vital to getting treatment that works. People in mental health and those with a diagnosis understand the hospital’s usefulness as necessary in terms of its purpose in community mental health.
Hospitalizations and the work put in by patients towards their recovery, upon admission until their final discharge, must be celebrated by everyone in the recovery process, including support, family, and friends. Recovery takes a community of collateral support. The work done in a community hospital should reflect a collaboration between the patient, provider, family, and outside resources galvanized upon a person’s discharge home.
People should prepare for a future hospitalisation once first diagnosed with a mental health condition. Waiting and putting off planning for a possible admission is the worst thing you can do if you have a chronic mental illness. You are not only ruling out the safest possible space when you are at imminent risk of harming yourself but also limiting your choices for how to proceed with your recovery at the most challenging time in the course of your treatment. There is no reason to put yourself at further risk of harm when you are so far from baseline; even your therapist and closet supports are worried about you and your safety in your living environment.
Getting to know your local hospitals is vital in maintaining your mental health over the long term. Identify phone numbers to local emergency rooms and the best transportation routes to get there when you aren’t feeling safe. Provide this contact information and your plan to go to friends and family. Getting adjusted and feeling safe in the hospital will make each subsequent hospitalization much more comfortable and organic for everyone involved in your recovery.
By reducing the stigma associated with your “first admission,” the process becomes normalized as just another step you’ve taken towards your recovery. It is also a giant step to reduce your risk of hospitalization in a state facility because you’re so far from your baseline that you are unmanageable and unsafe at a local hospital and require the resources of state-level long-term care.
Surviving a hospitalization requires several strengths. The ability to listen, reflect, re-learn habits, adjust and master a new environment, and cultivate safety during episodes where you’ve lost your feelings of control in most aspects of your everyday life.
Mastering self-reflection and rediscovering your inner strength to move beyond your immediate challenges will help you regain the power needed to move closer to discharge. Remember that you are escorted onto a unit by security in the hospital. This moment has to correspond to you surrendering your self-control. Instead, it IS the point of departure into your ultimate recovery.
There are three necessary skills needed for inpatient hospitalization experiences: first, interacting with staff and understanding them as a resource, not a roadblock in your recovery; second, self-reflection and care; and finally, rediscovering your inner guidance system as a resource to regain self-control.
The staff is there to support you in your recovery. Always remember staff members are people too. They are there to help evaluate your mental status at all times. This level of observation may evoke some paranoia, but being aware of mastering your behavior and interactions with staff will only prepare you further for interacting with people in your life.
If you are agitated with the unit’s rules and the staff’s enforcement, you should reflect on your readiness for discharge. Reporting your mental status to staff is not a step towards keeping you hospitalized longer; it is a step in reworking roadblocks in your treatment that may prevent you from moving toward recovery.
A tremendous opportunity to reclaim time for self-care is during an inpatient hospitalization. Practicing self-care in a controlled space is enormous for when discharged. If you are having difficulty staying clean and hygienic on the unit, this may be a sign you are not ready to do these things on your own—this is the time to master your coping skills, not just learn new ones.
The time between rounds should be an opportunity to practice them. Always discuss outcomes with your treatment team and ask for recommendations to revise and rethink your strategies for making these self-soothing activities the most helpful in your recovery.
Before you’re ready to go home, ask yourself, do you feel safe?
Knowing yourself and trusting your inner guidance system is the most crucial step in regaining control. Use the time in the hospital to test your doubts, reflect on them, and practice troubleshooting when these doubts become tested upon discharge.
Call people and stay connected to your social world. Don’t forget that you are re-entering your social world upon discharge. People’s behavior before admission can be upsetting for friends and folks in a sick person’s social circle. Re-engaging socially after this time of self-reflection in the hospital may be problematic. Take it slow, sustainable recovery is about the long term gains, not short term sprint.
Max E. Guttman, LCSW is a psychotherapist and owner of Recovery Now, a mental health private practice in New York City.