I have been hospitalized in a psychiatric/behavioral health hospital three times.  The first time I was in the adult ward, where my peers mainly suffered from depression and suicidal ideation.  My next hospitalization was in the co-occurring unit, where I was looked at as both an individual who needed mental health treatment, and someone with a substance abuse problem.  My last and most recent hospitalization occurred in the young adult ward.

Each hospital stay was unique and came with its own challenges and benefits.  My first stay in the hospital was frightening, as it was all a new experience.  I had a roommate with whom I got along.  My husband visited every day, and my parents came on the weekend.  I arrived to the psychiatric hospital via ambulance from the ER at a hospital about 30 minutes away.  Everyone was very welcoming, and the longest lasting consequence of this stay was weight gain, as they fed the patients copious amounts of food.  I missed a week+ of work for this first stay, and was very vague about why I was out.  Legally, employers cannot discriminate against you for mental illness, but I knew that the stigma could still affect how my coworkers looked at me.

My next hospital stay was a year later to the month.  This was in the co-occurring ward, and was the most stressful of the three stays.  I had a roommate who didn’t really speak to me, but who snored loudly.  Once again, I had frequent visitors.  The reason this stay was so difficult was I was with those coming off drugs and in the peak of a psychiatric crisis.  They were more outgoing and loud than those in my previous stay.  Everyone turned out to be nice, but I had more trouble settling in.  This was my shortest stay, and I found out I was leaving after only 3 days.  I had no prior warning and had to get in touch with my husband and have him drop everything to come pick me up.  I took it personally that I was kicked out so quickly, and it was only a few months later that I went to rehab (which I will write about in a future post).

My most recent stay occurred about a year and a half after my previous hospitalization.  This time around I was in the young adult ward, but was the oldest by far.  I was at the very top of the age range and felt ridiculous at first.  I also knew one of the staff members, and after having a panic attack and yelling at the staff, I was able to calm down enough to explain why I had to switch units.  They did not move me, but they did move the staff member.  It is important to note that I did not know this staff member well, and had in fact been in treatment with him the year prior.  I was asked multiple times how I knew him, but did not want to share that we were in treatment together since I did not know if he was forthcoming with that information at work.  It made the situation a bit more difficult, but I think I would have had more trouble (guilt) if I had “outed” him.

In my most recent hospitalization I had my own room, and I actually came to staff when I was struggling.  Both of these factors made the stay a bit easier.  This hospital was also closer to home, so I did not feel as guilty having my visitors drive to see me.  My husband came every day, and once again, my parents came on the weekend.  Something that really separated this stay from the rest, was that I was honest with my employer about the fact that I was being hospitalized for psychiatric reasons.  This was a different employer than I had with the previous hospitalizations, and I was treated with respect and kindness when I shared why I would be out of work.  Another aspect that was different this time around, was that I made friends with the people on my ward.  The first day I felt silly being so much older, but with time I came to accept that everyone was very nice and welcoming, and if my age didn’t bother them, why should it bother me?  This stay was probably the most helpful of the three.

I have been asked by friends about my hospital stays, as they or a family member feel they need treatment in a hospital setting.  My advice is always that sure, it can be scary, but it is better than the alternative (possible death).  The staff are typically kind, and the patients are generally welcoming to new comers.  Yes, there is a bit of a stigma in society about psychiatric hospitals (or behavioral heath wards in larger hospitals), but that stigma should not affect your ability to receive treatment.  I hope with time, the stigma fades so that people who need help