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Hospital treatment for your mental health

If you feel unable to keep yourself safe, it's a mental health emergency.

Get emergency advice

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Under 18? We have information on going into hospital as a young person

Why might I need to go to hospital?

If you're experiencing a mental health crisis, staying in hospital might be the best way to keep you safe and provide you with the level of treatment you need. This might be because:

  • you need to be admitted for a short period for further assessment
  • there's a risk to your safety if you don't stay in hospital, for example, if you are severely self-harming or at risk of acting on suicidal thoughts
  • there is a risk you could harm someone else
  • there isn't a safe way to treat you at home
  • you need more intensive support than can be given to you elsewhere.
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My experience of crisis care, depression and speaking out

Fighting depression is no easy thing, but it's a fight I'm finally starting to win.

Is hospital treatment right for me?

Your experience of being treated in hospital can depend on:

  • the hospital you go to
  • what kind of treatment you receive
  • your personal feelings about being in hospital.

Some people prefer being in hospital while others find it very difficult. Below are some aspects of hospital stays you might want to consider:

Potential advantages

  • You're likely to have access to a range of talking therapies and medication.
  • Trained staff are around to support you, for example, if you feel like self-harming.
  • You might feel you're getting a welcome break from stressful experiences or problems.
  • It can provide structure in your day and there are people around you.

Potential disadvantages

  • You can't always decide what you do, so there might be times when you feel bored or have to do activities you don't enjoy.
  • You don't have all your own things around you.
  • You won't be able to have family or friends near you whenever you like.
  • Nearly all hospitals have single-sex sleeping accommodation, but some may have mixed facilities during the day which some people find difficult.
  • You can't always leave when you want to.
  • You may be assessed under the Mental Health Act if you try to leave permanently (see our page on leaving hospital as a voluntary patient for more information).

In psychiatric units, [I find] the most successful ones are those that organise activities for the patients, get us involved in our care, and take time out to actually listen to us, to our needs, and even just be someone to listen to us when we're feeling down.

How can I access it?

If you think staying in hospital could help you, then you can ask your GP, psychiatrist or another health care professional to refer you.

If you choose to go into hospital, you are considered a voluntary patient (also known as an informal patient). This means that:

  • you should have the right to come and go from the hospital (within reason)
  • you may discharge yourself if you decide to go home.

Unfortunately many areas have a shortage of available beds, so it might not always be possible for you to be treated in hospital - even if that's what you'd prefer. (Our page on voluntary patients has more information, including on the advantages and disadvantages of being a voluntary patient.)

About locked wards

Locked wards are a kind of hospital ward where you can't come and go freely.

  • The doors may be physically locked, or you might need to get permission to leave the ward.
  • Some wards might only be locked at certain times, but others may be locked all the time.
  • Some locked wards have access to a secure outdoor space, like a garden or courtyard.

On most psychiatric wards there will be a mixture of voluntary patients and patients who are sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Health services have an equal duty to keep all these patients safe. For these reasons many psychiatric wards are locked, so if you are in hospital by choice you might feel like your freedom is more restricted than you would like.

In crisis: my experience

I really hope the Government will listen to the patients, medical experts and Mind's crisis care campaign...

Could I be forced to go to hospital?

If a group of mental health professionals agree that hospital treatment would be in your best interests to keep you or others safe, then they could detain you in hospital under the Mental Health Act (sometimes called being sectioned) – even if you don't want to be there.

See our pages on sectioning for information about the circumstances in which you can be sectioned, and about your legal rights.

[The crisis team] admitted me to a hospital 20ish miles away [from where I live]. After three weeks in there I was sent home, and they visited every few days for two weeks until I got a CPN (community psychiatric nurse).

What happens when I leave hospital?

There are some differences in what happens when you leave hospital depending on whether you are a voluntary patient or have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

I don't recall having a care plan in hospital. I certainly wasn't aware of a discharge plan and this caused myself and my partner stress and anxiety.

This information was published in October 2018.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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