Being evaluated and admitted to a behavioral health inpatient unit showed me a whole new world where freedoms cannot be taken for granted. First, my unsafe belongings and valuables were locked in the closet, including my pen and laced shoes. There’s no caffeine on the ward – all coffee and tea are decaf. Trash cans are paper grocery bags, and the shower curtain rod is made of weak plastic. In a stricter facility, you may only be allowed to use crayons for writing. Some people wear their hospital gowns or scrub-like hospital pants and smocks.
When you go to the ER, you should bring your medications in their original bottles with you, but they may not give them to you on the first day. Just like there is no caffeine, there is no smoking allowed, though they will give you a nicotene patch if you request it.
The first morning you are there, a nurse will come and get you for a blood draw. There will likely be three shift changes in a day, eight hours apart, and for each shift you are assigned a contact nurse. You are to go to that is the person for anything you need, like Advil, Ativan, or other medications, depending on what your inpatient psychiatrist has ordered for you. Your psychiatrist is required to meet with you a certain number of times in a week, though some check in more than others.
Every morning at breakfast, you circle what sides, entrees, desserts, and beverages you want for your next three meals on paper menus with your name on them. Everyone looks forward to mealtimes, but then they complain about not getting what they ordered. I think it is therapeutic in its own way. Your roommate may or may not talk to you – he or she may sleep most of the time, talk to himself, or not worry too much about undressing in front of you.
There is still some level of gossip just like in the real world, but we patients often befriend each other and then find common grievances to bond over. There is a day room or dining area where people might do puzzles or read between meals, and there will certainly be a big screen television and maybe a piano in the day room. If you are lucky, you will be allowed time outside in the walled courtyard where there may be a basketball hoop and some benches.
Your room and the bathroom are the only places we are not supervised, except if someone are in severe condition and moved to the intensive unit on suicide watch. Each day, different staff members facilitate groups – an occupational therapist may do arts and crafts, the chaplain might lead a group on spirituality, Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous groups may come in to hold meetings, and a social worker might lead a group on coping skills. Attendance is not mandatory but does help the doctor and nurses gauge how you are doing and when you might be ready to leave.
One thing to remember is that you have to be active part of your recovery – no one can help you get better if you are determined to stay sick.