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Hope in a Hospital

Hospitals offer the hope of healing, of better days ahead. This is true for all hospitals, including psychiatric hospitals (sometimes called behavioral health hospitals). Admittedly, though, “hope” isn’t a word that often comes to mind when someone is admitted, be it willfully or against his/her will, to a behavioral health hospital. Yet such hospitals exist for positive reasons. Believe it or not, psychiatric hospitals can be safe havens for people in crisis.
Of course, few people, even those who admit themselves willingly, actually want to be in a behavioral health hospital. Needing to be hospitalized can exacerbate existing feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, and depression. Being in such an environment can be confusing for people with serious mental illness. For some people, needing psychiatric hospitalization can increase feelings of embarrassment or shame and decrease self-confidence and self-efficacy (that experience of believing in one’s ability to be successful in life).  At the other end of the spectrum, a hospital stay (or more than one stay) can feel empowering and healing, decreasing feelings of fear, anxiety, stress, and depression.
I intentionally sought help from a behavioral health hospital after wrestling with a traumatic brain injury. My brain wasn’t functioning the way I knew it could; I wasn’t the person I knew I really was. I know professionally that people are resilient and that the brain has tremendous power to heal and/or adapt in order to thrive. Humans are meant to support each other, to give and receive help. Mental health hospitals are terrific healing spaces, places where people receive care from trained and compassionate professionals.

While not all behavioral health hospitals are the same, most modern hospitals share the common mission of being a safe haven for people in crisis. Hospitals do many positive things for people; by “hospital,” I mean not the building, not the entity, not the institution, but the people that are there to help and support patients on their journey to wellbeing. From my own experience, from hearing from people in support groups I’ve helped facilitate, and from mental health professionals, I can confidently say that doctors, nurses, behavioral health technicians, psychologists, therapists, and all staff, offer, among other things,

  • compassion
  • stability
  • safety
  • understanding
  • guidance
  • healing activities
  • information
  • mental health and wellness skills
  • a listening ear

According to psychiatric nurse O’Donis Person, the nursing profession in general and mental health nursing in particular, is about helping other people achieve a higher state of wellness. Psychiatric hospitals (most of them, anyway) aren’t about control or locking people away or punishing them. Thanks to nurses like O’Donis and other professionals like him, there is hope in psychiatric hospitals: hope in healing, hope in moving forward. And not just hope, but very real possibility.
I invite you to listen to this month’s Wellbeing & Words radio show (broadcast over the airwaves on at least 10 stations but also archived online). O’Donis shares his thoughts and experiences as a mental health nurse. As part of our conversation, I talk a bit of my own experience as a patient in a behavioral health hospital. Find the show here (you might need to scroll down the page to find this show), and enjoy this short preview of the episode Hope in a Hospital. 


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