Many people have very specific ideas about what mental hospitals are and what happens inside them. Most of these ideas are shaped by sensationalist stories and Hollywood movies that only show the world everything with a lot of fabrication and exaggeration. The real-life conversations about mental hospitals and whatever goes on inside them are virtually non-existent, forcing people to imagine only the worst-case scenarios. In the long run, this lack of discussion and awareness has led to a buildup of stigma and fear related to mental health hospitalization, as people are not sure what they are signing up for when they join these facilities.

In reality, mental health hospitals are designed to provide safe and effective environments for people to receive intensive mental health treatment. It is imperative to have a closer look at what to expect in a mental hospital and how to check in to clear the misconceptions surrounding mental hospitals and encourage everyone to seek the help they need.

What Happens in a Mental Hospital: Admission to Discharge Process

Whatever happens in a mental hospital can be divided into three phases: before admission, during the inpatient stay, and after discharge.

Before Admission

It is normal to feel overwhelmed, scared, and alone right before admission. You may wish to ask for a family member or a friend to help you through the admission process and fill out the paperwork. If possible, call the hospital ahead of time to ask them about their rules and regulations. Get a list of things to bring with you, and clearly understand the prohibited items.

Even if you are checking into a mental hospital of your own free will, some hospitals may have set rules to ensure patient safety, such as:

  • Initially, being in a locked ward that patients cannot leave by choice
  • Following a schedule for treatments, meals, activities, and bedtime
  • Locking away some items that may be used for self-harm (such as razors, shoelaces, and belts)
  • Sharing a room with another patient

During Treatment

As soon as you are admitted, a psychiatrist will evaluate you to determine a plan that best meets your needs. The treatment plan will involve working closely with mental health professionals, such as nurses, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, activity and rehabilitation therapists, and social workers. All patients participate in group therapy, individual therapy, or family therapy during their stay. Some of them may also receive psychiatric medications to boost recovery.

The hospital staff generously offers help in getting approval for a stay from patients’ insurance providers. These insurance companies periodically evaluate their progress during their stay and determine if they require any additional time at the hospital.

After Discharge

Once you finish treatment and are about to be discharged, a doctor may devise a day-treatment program. This program provides patients with many benefits similar to the ones they received during hospitalization, such as psychotherapy, but with the added flexibility to return home every night. Some hospitals also work on discharge planning to allow their clients continued treatment in community settings.

A tip that many experts offer is asking for help from family members, friends, and other trusted loved ones. These people can help you follow through with your discharge plan and offer support in different ways, such as taking you to appointments, ensuring their presence when you are going through a tough time, and helping with daily chores so you do not feel overwhelmed.

What Happens in a Mental Hospital? Your Rights as a Patient

Keep in mind that the rules and criteria for voluntary hospitalization (when a person checks themselves in willingly) may differ from involuntary hospitalization, where someone checks their loved one in on their behalf. In general, someone who is checking themselves into a mental hospital has a right to sign themselves back out whenever they wish to.

However, an exception to this rule applies if the hospital staff deems a voluntary patient as a risk to themselves or others. If an individual does not pose a threat to anyone, the hospital is bound to release them within two to seven days following their formal request. This time duration may vary slightly depending on the state’s local laws. Anyone encountering an issue getting out of the hospital where they voluntarily checked in can contact the state’s protection and advocacy agency.

As long as someone is in a mental hospital, they have a right to:

  • Be informed about all tests and treatments they will be receiving, along with the benefits and risks of each
  • Refuse any treatments or tests that they feel are unsafe or unnecessary for them
  • Refuse to be a part of a training session or experimental treatment that involves observers or students

All mental hospitals are bound to keep the hospitalization history private and secretive from everyone except for the patient’s insurance company.

What are Mental Hospitals Like?

Treatment approaches and procedures tend to vary at different mental health hospitals. Once an individual is admitted, they undergo a consultation with a doctor, most likely a psychiatrist. These doctors have adequate training to assess every patient’s mental and physical state and determine which level of care will suit them the most. As a part of this evaluation, patients are also briefed about how the hospital works. For example, the staff members may tell them that meals are served in communal areas only and are not allowed to be taken to private rooms.

From the results of these assessments, the doctors and patients collaborate to make treatment decisions and design a plan that works well for everyone. If the patient’s admission is involuntary, experts may have to prescribe some emergency medications without their consent so that they can stabilize and participate in the rest of the treatment.

After checking yourself into a mental rehab, you can expect to undergo the following activities and therapies:

Group Therapy

This includes facilitated discussions between patients under the supervision of licensed therapists. Group therapy can be conducted by psychologists, social workers, or medical professionals to discuss treatment issues and teach important life skills to clients.

Individual Therapy

Individual therapy involves one-on-one sessions between patients and a mental health professional, which can be a social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist. This type of therapy is often psychodynamic and focuses on a certain approach. Some common individual therapy types include cognitive behavioral and dialectical behavioral therapy. The choice of therapy to use in these one-on-one sessions depends on how severe a patient’s condition is and what their treatment goals entail.

Personal Time

Between group and individual therapies, patients have a lot of personal time to spend however they like. Some like to utilize it by reading books, while others like hanging out with peers or simply reflecting on their treatment progress.


When a patient is allowed to have visitations, the number of visitors allowed per patient depends on the individual policies of the mental hospitals. Most of them have specified visiting hours available throughout the day. Some hospitals may also allow patients to leave the facility on weekends with family or a staff member or go out for supervised shopping or grocery trips.


Should I go to a mental hospital?

You may consider checking yourself into a mental hospital for several reasons, such as the following:

  • You have a reason to believe that you may harm yourself or someone else and need to be in a safe and supervised place
  • To undergo mental health assessments or treatments
  • For medication changes that require close observation and supervision
  • You have recently noticed a new onset of serious mental health issues and symptoms, such as psychosis and mania, and cannot be treated safely in the community.

In general, doctors try their best to treat individuals with mental health issues at home as long as it is safely possible. Such people connect with community mental health teams comprising psychiatrists, community psychiatric nurses, social workers, and occupational therapists.

Can I leave a mental hospital after checking in?

People who have voluntarily checked in to receive treatment are generally allowed to leave the hospital between active treatment sessions. However, the only exception to this rule is when the staff members have a reason to deem a patient too unstable to leave as they may self-harm or cause harm to others.

Can a mental hospital restrain or force a patient to stay?

Many people have a false notion about how mental hospitals are similar to jails and do not allow patients to leave treatment by choice whenever they feel like it. While this is not the case for everyone, sometimes, the hospital team intervenes for the client’s safety. These incidents usually occur when an unsafe patient to be released into the community attempts to leave the hospital. In such a case, a doctor assesses if they are a threat to themselves or others before detaining them involuntarily. Depending on the severity of the condition and the type of mental hospital, some patients may be restrained with ankle or wrist cuffs to keep them from harming themselves. Sometimes, they may also be given chemical or physical restraints if they constantly try to hurt themselves or others around them.

Who is included in a mental health hospital team?

The treatment team in a mental health hospital includes the following members:

  • psychiatrists
  • nurses
  • social workers
  • psychologists
  • occupational therapists
  • dietitians
  • music therapists

How long do you stay in a mental hospital?

The length of time you will spend in a mental hospital depends on different factors, such as the reason for admission, the treatments you require, and the progress rate. Some individuals may stay in for 2 to 3 days, while others may remain in therapy for two to three weeks or even longer.