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When Hospitalization Is Needed for Depression

Most depression -- over 90% -- is treated on an out-patient basis. But, in cases of severe depression or treatment-resistant depression, some people need to stay in the hospital for a short time. You might seek hospitalization yourself. Or you could be hospitalized under a doctor's order.

There is an unfortunate stigma associated with being hospitalized. Many people feel ashamed, as if it's a sign that they are "crazy" or "weak." Some people fear that being hospitalized is the same thing as being institutionalized or sent to an asylum.

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But that's not the case. Usually, a stay in the hospital is just a way for you to recover in a safe and stable environment. This allows you to take a break from some of the daily stresses that contributed to your depression. Your health care providers can work with you to try different treatments and figure out which are best.

Most people don't like being in the hospital. You may not like the routine, the food, or the other patients. It might be frightening. But look at it this way: Depression is an illness, as real and as serious as heart disease or cancer. And sometimes depression -- just like other serious diseases -- requires treatments that can only be provided in a hospital.

Who Needs to Be Hospitalized 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 hospitalization. A stay in the hospital allows you to get back in control.
  • People who are unable to function. Hospitalization 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 advise doing so under the close supervision of 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 anesthesia and gives your doctors a chance to see how you're doing after treatment.

What Are Your Rights Regarding Hospitalization for Depression?

Many people with depression seek hospitalization because they feel unstable or suicidal. A doctor must evaluate whether hospitalization is necessary and appropriate and whether a less intense treatment setting, such as an intensive outpatient program or partial hospital program, may be a more appropriate alternative. Sometimes patients are hospitalized against their will if they pose an immediate danger to themselves or others. The laws concerning hospitalization for depression vary from state to state. Generally, you can only be hospitalized against your wishes if you are considered to be a risk to yourself or others.

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