What to Expect at a Psychiatric Ward

This is written not to scare you, but prepare you. Not all hospitals are the same and for the most part most of what they do is  to keep you and the other patients safe.  What varies is how much the hospital is able to really help people.   Many times, unfortunately, the limited staff has to focus on the most troubled patients.   

I have been to many psychiatric hospitals and some have been total nightmares, but if you are reading this and thinking about going to the hospital, please do not let that deter you.  I just have been unlucky and I think for the most part hospitals are good and can work.  I just want to be honest so you know what you can expect. 

When you get there, they will take everything from you and eventually go through it. Some they will lock up in the safe, some they will put your name on and  some they will let you have.   Many things are not allowed on a psychiatric ward because they could be used for suicide or self harm. Even if you are not a self-harmer or suicidal, someone on the unit might be and you don’t want them to get ahold of them. 

Some of the things not allowed are any food from home, shampoo, deodorant, etc that has alcohol in it are not allowed.  You are not allowed pens, shoe laces, and the list goes on.  They usually allow you to have three outfits and I would bring something comfy.  I also would not bring anything valuable with you or clothes that you would really miss if they got lost.  As far as the clothes, they will do your laundry for you, you just have to learn their schedule and how they go about it.  They take your phone, but make sure you make a list of phone numbers you might want while you are there because there is a phone you can use. I know some hospitals allow phones, but I have never seen one and most people I have talked to say they could not have a phone. 

After taking everything from you, they will ask you a lot of questions.  You will need to get medically cleared so you will see a nurse or doctor to make sure that you don’t have medical problems that would prohibit you from getting the help you need if the hospital is not equipped especially.

The questions range from what is going on recently to specific thoughts to giving meds you are on to who your doctor is to who you want to know you are there.  That is one important thing to know.  When you are in a psychiatric ward and someone tries to call you, they won’t be able to unless they have your code.  That is because of privacy.  If someone were to call and ask if you were there, they would just say no.

Make sure you get your code and let the people know that you want to call you know the code and the phone hours.

The phones are off a lot. They are off usually between 10 pm and 8 am.  Then, they are also off for groups.  You are expected to go to all the groups. That’s why you can’t use the phone during that time.  You are also limited to usually 10 minutes on phone call because there are only two phones that all the patients share.

After you have been medically cleared, all the questions have been asked, your stuff is taken away, you have gotten your code, chances are this is when the person who brought you will have to leave and this is the hard part.  Remember, it is hard for them too.

You will brought to your floor and if it is a good hospital, they will go over the rules with you. (If they don’t, and some bad ones don’t, find someone nice who seems to know what is going on and ask them what rules you should be aware of.)   They will give you a folder of things to read. The last hospital I was at had a worksheet to work on in addition to a journal. You will be shown where your room is and meet your roommate.  Yes-chances are you will have a room mate.  Don’t get me going on that one…. (My mental health advocate side of me boils in regards to this.) My insurance pays for private room when I am in a regular hospital, but when I go to a psych ward, I am not only given a roommate, but the bed is so less comfortable. I know that it probably has to do with the way to keep people safe, but still, I feel like the mentally ill are cast aside….okay…enough of my advocacy talking… Oh, one more thing, There has to a patient bill of rights on the wall with  phone numbers on it if you feel you are being mistreated, use it.  You can usually ask to talk to a chaplain too.   

Depending on what time you get there, you will talk to your doctor, and/or a therapist usually (they are the ones who organizes family meetings, talks to you about going home, makes appts when you leave, etc.).  I think the law states that you have to see a  doctor within 24 hours of you being admitted.

You might get there at meal time.  You usually all go together to the dining room. Sometimes hospitals have you eat right on the unit.  One thing you will not see on your plate is a knife for obvious reasons so eating with etiquette  is challenging.

Groups are usually about 45 minutes long and are on all different topics. Usually there is a group in the morning where you set your goal for the day and then one at night that reviews if you have achieved your goals.  There are art therapy, sometimes meditation, yoga, exercise, talk therapy.  Good hospitals have therapists with degrees teach you different ways to cope and what to do about stress and a wide range of topics.  Some of them are really interesting.  Of course, when I am in the hospital, I am usually manic and unable to concentrate.

The best part of being on a psychiatric ward in my opinion are the other patients. Sometimes, it is essential that you have some other people to talk to because there is not enough staff.  A lot of the time is spent talking to other patients is to complain about staff at many of the places I have been.  It is unfortunate. I know they have a lot to deal with and are under extreme pressure, but you will find some that are just not suitable for their jobs.  Just try and stay away from them. 

Beware that there are some patients you will want to stay away from and you will learn who they are soon.  Some people are in there who are quite violent. Don’t be scared as the hospital staff have a great plan set in place for when someone starts to lose it.   It might be scary the first time you see it, but just go into your room or wherever they tell you to go and you will be fine.  I have seen people throw chairs, hit staff members, yell and scream and threaten everything.  The last time I was in the hospital, a guy ran the length of the hall and pulled down all the lights and tiles from the ceiling.  While they were repairing them, we had to walk thru it all and there was blood and everything.  Another time, I did not see it, but a guy ran through window and escaped.  They got him and the next morning he was full of stitches.  I am not saying it is crazy like this all the time, just warning you.


Try and keep to yourself as much as you can.  FInd a few “friends” you can hang out with and open up to about things.  However, I have learned that it can be like middle school and people get petty over things and you can find yourself in the middle of a problem thru no fault of your own.

 I know some of this sounds scary, but there are things I wish I knew before going.  I hope they help.  Please though, do not go because of what I have written.  Just know…if you are going to the hospital….YOU WILL BE OKAY!!!!!




3 thoughts on “What to Expect at a Psychiatric Ward

  1. I agree. in ireland where I’m from, we are allowed cell phones, laptops and stuff,in our psych ward, which I am always so glad about. there is a lot of drama though and you have to be careful of other patients. xo

    • I understand why they don’t allow those things in some ways, but think in my case, it would be better if I had them. I am glad that you are able to have them in Ireland. I don’t plan on visiting a psych ward when I am there, but have a visit planned there in a few months and am getting very excited.

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