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When admission to hospital is needed for depression

In some cases, severe depression may require hospital in-patient care.

Although doctors would rather treat people for depression out of hospital, admission to hospital may be recommended, or ordered under the Mental Health Act for a person's own health or safety, or to protect others.

Hospital treatment allows psychiatrists to closely monitor a patient and their treatments in a safe and supportive environment.

Who needs to be admitted to hospital for depression?

There are many people with depression who might benefit from a hospital stay. Here are some examples:

  • People who are at risk of hurting themselves or others. Preventing suicide and violence is the most common reason for hospitalisation. A stay in the hospital allows you to get back in control.
  • People who are unable to function. Hospitalisation makes sense if you are so depressed that you can't take care of yourself.
  • People who need observation when trying a new medication. Sometimes, your doctor may be fine-tuning your depression medicine and may want you to be admitted into the hospital. Since you will be under constant observation there, your doctor will be able to see more easily how well a treatment is working.
  • People who need treatments that are given only in a hospital. Some treatments, like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are usually given in the hospital. A stay in the hospital allows you to recover from anaesthesia and gives your doctors a chance to see how you're doing after treatment.

What are your rights regarding hospitalisation for depression?

Many people with depression admit themselves into the hospital because they feel unstable or suicidal. But others are hospitalised against their will - this is often referred to as ‘being sectioned’ - and this only happens if doctors, a social worker, or close relative, believe it is necessary. Generally, you can only be hospitalised against your wishes if you are considered to be a risk to yourself or others.

During an emergency, a health care professional or police officer may require you to be evaluated by a hospital. Once there, a hospital doctor will talk to you and decide whether you actually need to be hospitalised.

Under the 1983 Mental Health Act you can initially be sectioned for only 72 hours whilst doctors evaluate your case, but this can be increased to 28 days if further psychiatric assessment is needed. At the end of this period doctors can detain you for a further six months - but if your condition improves you can be released at any time.

Bear in mind, if you disagree with the hospital's assessment, you - or a relative - can appeal to your NHS Trust.

When you're in the hospital, you may face some tough restrictions. Even if you admit  yourself into hospital, you may not be able to leave as soon as you want. The hospital may strictly control visits from family and friends, and limit the items you can take in with you. You may be on a locked ward for at least some of your stay. You may also be expected to follow a certain schedule. While the restrictions can be hard to accept, keep in mind that they are in place for the safety of you and the other patients.

Remember that most hospital stays for depression are brief and voluntary. The goal is for you to stay until your doctors are confident that you are safe and stable.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on July 02, 2014

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