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Depression Health Center

When Hospitalization Is Needed for Depression

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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.

During an emergency, a health care professional or police officer may require you to be evaluated at a hospital. Once there, a hospital doctor will talk to you and decide whether you actually need to be hospitalized. While the doctor has the final say whether you get admitted, friends or family members can advocate for your case. If a doctor believes that involuntary hospitalization is necessary, the hospital has the right to evaluate your condition usually for several days before needing to have a judge decide whether ongoing involuntary hospitalization and medications or other treatments can be administered against your will.  

The length of your stay is determined by the staff based on your clinical condition, although insurance companies can independently decide if they no longer believe continued hospitalization is medically necessary. In this situation, they may refuse to pay for ongoing treatment in the hospital. If your doctor disagrees with an insurance company's decision to refuse to pay for ongoing treatment, the doctors typically will appeal their decision. If the doctors no longer think that you are in danger, you will be released within two to seven days, depending on the laws in your state. If you disagree with the hospital's assessment, you can ask to speak with a mental hygiene lawyer in order to request that a judge rule on the need for ongoing involuntary hospitalization. Talk to your state's Protection and Advocacy agency.

When in the hospital, you may face restrictions designed to keep you and other patients safe. Even if you are admitted to the hospital on a voluntary basis, you may not be able to leave whenever you want. The hospital may strictly control visits from family and friends and limit the items you can take in with you like cell phones or laptop computers. Sharp objects like razors that you may bring with you will usually be kept by staff in a safe place, and you may be asked to not wear shoe laces or belts. 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.

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