When Hospitalization Is Needed for Depression

Depression is not only one of the most common types of mental illness, it is also one of the most treatable. In most cases, treatment involves outpatient psychotherapy and /or medication. Many individuals experience at least some – if not significant – reduction in symptoms with proper treatment. However, some situations require psychiatric inpatient treatment. Hospitalization is the most intensive form of treatment. Inpatient stays usually last for a few days up to two weeks, although in some cases they may be longer. Hospitalization for depression is often necessary if:

  • The symptoms are severe
  • The patient has a high risk of suicide
  • The patient’s functioning is severely impaired
  • The depression includes psychotic symptoms (hallucinations or delusions)

Each of these factors is beyond the scope of outpatient treatment. For example, when people are so depressed that they can’t get out of bed, they’re not likely to get to therapy – let alone participate in a therapy session. Suicidal individuals with a history of suicide attempts or who have said they intend to harm themselves (or have a specific plan and the means to carry it out), generally require the safety that only inpatient treatment provides. The presence of psychotic symptoms in depression mean the person is losing touch with reality. This impairs their judgment and may make them a danger to themselves or others. Hospitalization has many benefits for the severely depressed individual. These include:

  • 24/7 monitoring by trained staff
  • Daily assessment by the attending psychiatrist
  • Multiple therapy sessions (group and individual) each day
  • Daily medication monitoring
  • Interactions with other patients in the milieu can be empowering and inspiring

An often overlooked benefit of hospitalization is that it removes patients from the stressors of their day-to-day lives. Sometimes that much-needed rest will help jump start the recovery process. Inpatient treatment also has its downsides, including:

  • It’s expensive (most insurance plans will cover a significant portion of inpatient treatment)
  • It can lead to embarrassment and shame (particularly if friends, relatives, or coworkers find out about it)
  • It can be stressful to be in an unfamiliar environment, surrounded by a lot of other mentally ill individuals
  • It can add additional stress due to time lost from work, childcare issues, pet care concerns, etc.

Inpatient psychiatric treatment can be a viable, intensive treatment option for individuals who meet the criteria for admission. For someone battling very severe depression, it may be the best way to expedite the recovery process. Keep in mind that inpatient psychiatric treatment is not a “vacation” in which you can sleep or lie around all day. Patients are expected to take an active role in their treatment. If you or someone you love is experiencing severe depression and/or having suicidal thoughts, talk to your doctor or mental health care provider about whether hospitalization might be an option.

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