June 29, 2022
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Hillary Fox/Stocksy United
Society holds a lot of stigma around hospitalization for depression. It’s important to talk about how positive and helpful it can really be.
I had major depression before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the globe, but the virus only made my mental health worse. By Fall 2020, I was struggling more than ever.
One day in September, I asked my mom to drive me to the emergency room where I was soon admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital for 10 days and a partial hospitalization program (PHP) for 30 days after that.
I’m sharing my story to shed light on a stigmatized topic and to show you that hospitalization for your mental health — even in the midst of a pandemic — isn’t as scary as it seems.
My hospitalization was a massive turning point in my life. It gave me the space and knowledge to shift my mindset and change my life for the better. Hospitalization helped me reconnect with my passion, hope, and love for life.
In the weeks leading up to my hospitalization, I struggled with a sense of ever-present despair and hopelessness. I felt extremely anxious at work and I lost sight of my interests and future goals.
My depression over the years has featured suicidal ideation on and off, but these thoughts grew intense and all-encompassing during this time.
I was burnt out, emotionally exhausted, and utterly confused about who I was and what I truly felt about anything. I also struggled to eat and lost weight rapidly.
I wrote in my journal that I “simply couldn’t handle my life anymore” and I needed to take a break for a brain reset. My suicidal ideation never reached the point of attempting to take my own life, but I felt completely stuck — while I desperately wanted to stop existing, I couldn’t bear to put that pain on my family and loved ones.
My cousin died by suicide when I was a kid and my aunt was never the same again. I couldn’t do that to her again or to my parents and best friends.
The only option I felt I had was to be admitted to an inpatient psychiatric hospital. I knew I needed to find a way to shift my mindset so I had a reason to live — not for others, but for myself.
“You deserve to pursue the help you know you need.”
I clung to the last shreds of hope I could find and I was determined to make the most of my experience. As I sat in the ER, waiting for a bed in a psychiatric hospital to open up nearby, I couldn’t remember ever feeling so terrible. But at the same time, I felt more hopeful than I had in weeks.
I could sense change on the horizon and I was ready to grab it.
After waiting in the ER for about 10 hours, I took an ambulance to the psychiatric hospital. When I arrived, a nice mental health counselor named John gave me a tour of the facility. By the end, I was so emotionally drained that I simply sat down and cried until he gently escorted me to my room.
Over the course of my 10 days at the inpatient facility, I met with psychiatrists who put me on new medication. I engaged in each group activity and learned new coping skills from the excellent group therapist. I spent a lot of time journaling, snacking, and spending time with my new friends in my unit.
My emotions ranged from excruciatingly distressed to exuberant and joyful.
I learned essential dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills like mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance. When I left the inpatient program, I felt ready to go home… but I also knew I wasn’t ready to fully enter my regular life.
My psychiatrist at the hospital admitted me to a PHP program near my home, where I continued learning skills from therapeutic disciplines like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), expressive therapy, and DBT.
After 30 days, my therapist at the PHP and I agreed I was ready to end my stay at the program. I got the time to completely focus my efforts on improving my mental health and it completely shifted my mindset.
I had a better understanding of my emotions. When I first went inpatient, my emotions felt almost dangerous. I avoided them until I couldn’t anymore, and they became intense and out of my control. Throughout my experience, I learned to pay attention to my emotions and validate them rather than judge and push them away.
Hope began to seep back into my consciousness. I felt excitement about my future and closer to my goals.
I actually had the motivation to do the things I love. After my program ended, I started a blog for freelance writers, began seriously working on writing a novel, and leveled up my freelance writing career.
Before I was hospitalized, I struggled immensely with social anxiety at work. I was terrified my boss thought I was too quiet or that I didn’t work hard enough or that I was doing something wrong somehow. Once I returned after my hospitalization, I felt much calmer and realized my fears weren’t reflective of reality.
My confusion over my identity and my lack of self-esteem were reduced as well.
I learned the magic of self-compassion. I learned how to use positive affirmations, how to focus on what I’m grateful for, how to celebrate my accomplishments, and how to use positive self-talk. Being kind to myself helps me feel more confident, capable, and comfortable in my skin.
Psychiatric hospitalization gets a bad reputation in our culture. Stories of dehumanization and trauma haunt our social consciousness.
While it’s true that the medical system in the United States needs vast systemic improvement, it’s also true that psychiatric hospitals can and do help people overcome mental health challenges.
If you’re struggling with depression and it feels like you’re slipping off into the deep end, remember this: You deserve treatment.
Whether or not you’re actively suicidal, your pain is valid. You don’t have to attempt suicide to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It’s challenging but also incredibly important to stop minimizing your pain and your struggles.
You deserve to pursue the help you know you need.
The last piece of advice I have is this: Try to make the most of your hospitalization experience. I squeezed every bit of help I could get out of my experience. I pushed to see my psychiatrist every day. I made sure I got outside and attended every group activity that I could.
You will have bad days when things feel hopeless again. That isn’t your fault. But when you can, find a small strip of hope and cling to it as if your life depends on it.
Medically reviewed on June 29, 2022
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