Depression is a significant medical condition that impacts mood and behavior as well as numerous physical functions, including appetite and sleep. People with depression often lose interest in activities they once enjoyed and have trouble performing everyday activities. They may also feel hopeless and as if life isn’t worth living.
If someone you care about is showing symptoms of depression, take action to ensure they get the help they need. Treatment for depression usually consists of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. These treatments are usually effective in treating people with depression. When symptoms don’t improve with treatment, however, hospitalization might be necessary for a short period of time.
Depression affects everyone differently, and it can sometimes be difficult to know when medical intervention is necessary. As a general rule, you should never ignore threats of suicide. It’s better to err on the side of caution if you suspect someone you care about is thinking of harming themselves. Keep in mind that a history of attempting to commit suicide is one of the strongest indicators that a person will try it again. Hospitalization is often recommended in cases where multiple suicide attempts have been made.
Your friend or loved one may not be receptive to the idea of being hospitalized. Some people with depression believe that being hospitalized is the same thing as being sent to an asylum. This can cause them to feel scared, ashamed, or angry when someone suggests hospitalization.
If your friend or family member is resistant to receiving care in a psychiatric hospital, it’s important to remain calm and to speak slowly in a reassuring voice. Gently remind them that hospitalization can help them to recover in a safe and stable environment. It can also give them a break from the daily stressors that may be contributing to their depression.
You can also explain that depression is an illness, and just like other disorders and conditions, it sometimes requires treatment that can only be given in a hospital.
Being “committed” to a psychiatric hospital or ward sounds drastic and carries a certain lingering stigma. However, hospitalization may be the best option to guarantee someone’s safety under certain circumstances. Your friend or loved one may need to be hospitalized if they:
- are at risk of hurting themselves or others
- are unable to perform daily tasks or care for themselves properly
- need to be monitored when trying a new medication
- need treatments that are only given in a hospital, such as electroconvulsive therapy and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
The best option for hospitalization is to have the person voluntarily commit themselves. The legal requirements for having someone involuntarily committed for psychiatric treatment or evaluation are governed by state law in the United States. If you suspect that a loved one may need hospitalization but they refuse to commit themselves, talk to a mental health professional about the legal requirements for commitment.
A threat of suicide is the most common reason for hospitalization, but it may not be enough to justify hospitalization. A mental health professional will need to evaluate your friend or loved one to determine if they’re an immediate threat to themselves or others before agreeing to commit them to the hospital.
Generally, hospital stays last about three days, unless a family member can pay for a longer stay in a private facility.
According to Suicide Awareness Voices of Education, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the United States, taking the lives of approximately 38,000 Americans each year. If you suspect your friend or loved one is thinking about committing suicide but hasn’t openly expressed an intention to commit suicide, you should ask them the following questions:
- Have you thought about committing suicide?
- Have you ever taken steps to commit suicide?
- Have you ever attempted to commit suicide in the past?
If they answer “yes” to any of these questions, then they are at risk of trying to commit suicide. Other warning signs include:
- talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to go on living
- making a will or giving away personal possessions
- searching for a means of doing personal harm (i.e., researching ways to commit suicide or attempting to buy a gun)
- sleeping too much or too little
- eating too little or too much, resulting in significant weight gain or weight loss
- engaging in reckless behaviors, including excessive alcohol or drug consumption
- avoiding social interactions with others
- expressing rage or intentions to seek revenge
- showing signs of anxiousness or agitation
If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or your local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until help arrives.
- Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
- Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.
If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
Sources: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Hospital stays for treating depression tend to be brief due to cost. Here is a list of some necessary items that your friend or loved one can bring with them:
- pajamas and slippers
- loose-fitting, comfortable clothes
- basic toiletries, such a toothbrush and toothpaste
- glasses or contact lenses (plus contact case and solution)
- any medications they are currently taking
- several changes of underwear and other undergarments
Anything that might be used to commit harm or suicide isn’t allowed. This includes belts, razors, and shoes with laces. The hospital will provide basic amenities, such as towels, washcloths, and soap.
Make sure your friend or loved one knows that you care about them and that you want to be there for them while they are in the hospital. You can show your support in the following ways:
- call them or visit them at the hospital
- bring them food, books, games, or other items that can make their stay more comfortable
- offer to clean their home, take care of their pets, or do other errands for them
Keep in mind that they may not want to see anyone while they’re in the hospital, and you should respect their wishes. You can send them a card or have flowers delivered to show that you’re thinking of them.