Depression and low mood

Treatment in hospital for depression

Sometimes people with depression require hospital care. This may be because their depression is severe or because of suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. We spoke to a few young people who had been admitted to hospital for treatment for their depression, either for a few days or, occasionally, for extended periods of a couple of months up to a year. Some people had stayed on a psychiatric ward of a general hospital but most had been to a specialist psychiatric hospital. This won’t be specified in the text as young people didn’t always identify which kind of hospital they stayed in.

Staying on the psychiatric ward
Some of the people had stayed on children’s wards but most had been on adult wards, often as the only under 18-year-olds there. A few had stayed on a specific adolescent unit where other patients were the same age. A few people had been “in and out” of different hospitals and units over a longer period of time. Many said they’d felt “anxious” or “scared” to go in and one woman said she’d been afraid beforehand of being hurt by others on the ward. The majority of people had been willing to go into hospital although we spoke to two young women who had been sectioned (i.e. taken to hospital against their will).

Most of the people had stayed on the ward with family or friends visiting them and one man only stayed in during the week and spent weekends at home.
 
The life on the psychiatric ward, described by young people, consisted of different types of therapies including one-to-one counselling, group therapy and art therapy, spending time and socialising with the others on the ward, playing pool or other games, schooling and “being bored”. One woman said that without the other young people on the ward “we would have died of boredom”.
Experiences of hospital care
Most people had mixed experiences of staying on the ward and those who had stayed in different hospitals described big differences between them. One of the main benefits people felt they had gained from the ward stay, was being among other people who’d experienced similar things and making friendships which could last a long time following discharge. One woman said that without the friends she made on the ward, the stay would’ve been “hell” and simply “unbearable”. One woman said of the friends she made on the ward' “we all kept each other sane in the most insane way”.
 
A few people said that they had learnt to know each other better than the staff did and always looked out for each other. In some areas, people felt better able to rely on their peers, rather than the staff on the ward.

Spending time on the ward with other people could also be fun and especially those who had stayed for a few months or longer said they had done a lot of fun things together and had their own inside jokes. Being with other teenagers could also make life feel more “normal”'

“We used to speak about just general stuff, what’s it like to be a teenager and you know what music do you like, and you know those sort of things, which kind of made it a bit more normal in way.”
A hospital stay could also give people a much needed break from the pressures and difficulties of home life or school and the time and space to think things through without any external influences. A couple of people also said that staying in hospital had helped them build up their confidence and that they came out feeling stronger. They said that having immediate access to help and someone to talk to them was great and something they hadn’t experienced before. They also praised the individual staff members on the ward with whom they’d developed bonds.
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One woman said she had been “petrified” about going into a private hospital because of common misconceptions. It turned out to be “nothing like expected”, “magnificent” in “lovely grounds” and with “no security, no high fences”. And one of the most helpful things she had done.
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People also recounted unpleasant aspects to their hospital stays. A lot of these experiences were to do with their relationship with the staff, often with individual staff members. Some said they had found staff unhelpful and in some cases “insensitive”. One woman had a particularly bad experience with a staff nurse who she described as “malicious” towards young patients. The woman had launched an official complaint against this member of staff.

Some people also felt that the hospital building and environment themselves did not help them feel safe or comfortable and described them as “clinical” or “run down” with nothing for young people to do. 
Some people described feeling “patronised” or “controlled” on the ward when they felt they weren’t being treated with respect or they were made to take part in activities they didn’t want to. One woman felt that she was being controlled rather than helped on the ward and described a sense of “loss of control”. Another woman, who was sectioned, recounted how hard it was to feel like she had to do what the staff told her.
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Several people had been admitted to hospital following a suicide attempt. Some had stayed in a general hospital and others in a psychiatric unit. For a couple of them, it had been their first contact with mental health professionals. People also described self-harming whilst on the ward and a couple had attempted suicide during their hospital stay. Some people had been under ‘observation’ during their hospital stay because of concerns about their safety. Being followed and watched either continually or at short intervals, day and night, was frustrating and awkward for people.

One man said that the adult psychiatric ward he had stayed on had been a horrible experience for him as he’d seen a lot of “nasty” things going on there and had been shouted at by some of the other patients. One woman had also stayed on a few mixed-sex adult wards which she had found “scary” and lacking in privacy. She had found her stays at private clinics more useful than the NHS hospitals'

I found private health care, the people in private health care more helpful in their professional capacity than the NHS ones. Probably ‘cos they’re all overworked or whatever… I’m sure that they don’t mean to do that, but it’s just a completely different set up. [Private hospital] was a very non-threatening environment and you respect the staff really.”

Some people said they were able to see the positives of staying in hospital, when looking back on those experiences. One woman who had been going through very difficult time and stayed in different hospitals, said that “staying in hospital saved my life”.

For helplines and other resources please see our ‘Resources’ section.

Last reviewed June 2017.

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