Hospital based treatment for depression

Getting a bed in a NHS psychiatric hospital usually happens when someone is considered very ill (e.g. a danger to themselves or others). It can be voluntary or through being 'sectioned'. Sometimes it can be difficult to get an NHS bed, and one woman once felt she had to act-up a little to get one. If someone has private health insurance, they may be able to go to a private psychiatric hospital. Hospitals also have Accident and Emergency as well as Outpatient departments which people use when they do not need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital.

Experiences of NHS psychiatric hospitals were mixed for some of the people we interviewed. In most peoples' experience, psychiatric hospitals did not usually live up to highly negative community stereotypes (e.g. as lunatic asylums, a place for 'nutters'). But people (as well as families) who had negative and stigmatised impressions of psychiatric hospitals could feel ashamed and fearful about being hospitalised. Especially in past times, there were aspects of NHS hospitals that were very poor. One woman described a 1970s experience of a psychiatric hospital “like something out of Dickens”.

More recent experiences of hospitals included positive experiences. For instance, people reported getting better medication in hospitals, as well as consultations with health professionals (e.g. psychiatrists, nurses, occupational therapists); much needed rest; physical and creative activities; emotional support, 'relief about being in the same boat' as others, and counselling/therapy. All such experiences could be helpful.

Not all the problems in NHS hospitals have been fixed though. Certainly, there were mixed feelings about the care now available in the NHS. There was a sense that some staff care and the experience could be empowering, but also ideas that NHS hospitals are geared more to 'containing' patients, rather than really demonstrating care. There were numerous accounts of an over-emphasis on medication, or staff who made little attempt to engage with patients who were depressed and in need of encouragement.

A number of people also described how they had become 'institutionalised' in short time periods and so needed to learn how to live in the real world again. Those who had been on mixed wards found the practice of mixing depressed patients with other non-depressed (yet seriously ill) patients disturbing.

Some people had private health insurance that allowed them to get a bed in a private hospital. Private hospitals were described as akin to a nice “hotel”, generally with staff who appeared engaged and “caring”. There was a wider range of treatments that were more readily available than in the NHS, including complementary therapies (e.g. group therapy, massage, yoga, meditation). However, private hospitals were not always highly rated. For instance, one woman escaped from a private hospital while suicidal and thought that the staff there were mostly agency staff.

Experiences of accident & emergency departments in hospitals were mixed. After suicide attempts, it is possible for people be met by a lack of empathy or even hostility from staff who may not comprehend their mental despair. Nevertheless, some non-mental health professionals can be supportive.

Last reviewed September 2017.

Last updated September 2017.


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