“They’ll send me to the Loony Bin!” is an expression often said in jest. Mental illness is real for many people and they may fear going “crazy” and being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Images from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975) or other such scenarios where patients are locked up and forgotten or where strange experiments are conducted threaten to distort the reality of how mental health clinics actually function.

Today mental health clinics have changed drastically and those dreaded scenarios are obsolete. Today many clinics have appropriately changed their name to “Emotional Health Clinic” or something which sounds much less threatening and is more descriptive of the services offered. The goal of mental health clinics is emotional and mental wellbeing of their patients.

A wide range of mental health issues are treated in inpatient settings such as depression and anxiety disorders, Obsessive-compulsive disorders, eating disorders, chemical dependency and addiction treatment, bipolar disorder, and many others.

The first step in being admitted to a mental health clinic is recognizing the seriousness of the illness and that treatment s tried so far have not helped significantly. Once the patient or a family member understands that more help is needed, the clinic will perform an intake evaluation to determine if the patient in fact does need to be hospitalized. This is usually determined by the severity of the issue, the lack of response to previous treatments, and if the patient is a danger to self or others.

Being admitted to a mental health clinic is frightening, not only for the patient but for family members. The separation from family, spouse or children is often difficult and initially the patient may feel very alone. Fortunately, mental health professionals are usually very welcoming and understanding. They realize how frightened the new patient feels and make every effort to help them adapt. Other patients are often helpful in welcoming new patients as they remember how frightened they were when they entered the program.

Days in inpatient treatment are very structured with educational group sessions, small group therapy, art therapy, recreation, movies, and other activities. Each patient meets with a psychiatrist, initially daily and then every few days, and medication is often prescribed. Close supervision is important to monitor side effects and the effectiveness of medication. Adjustments are made accordingly as the psychiatrist listens carefully to the feedback the patient provides.

Most patients form strong bonds with other patients as they share many vulnerable and deep areas of concern in group therapy. Even as issues vary from one patient to the other, they understand the pain that has brought each person to this point and cheer each other on in the process of recovery.

Often when a patient no longer needs inpatient care, they will continue to attend intensive outpatient treatment on a daily basis as long as needed. Some programs offer half-day programs and gradually the patient is able to resume their normal routine. Follow-up appointments are scheduled and continuing support is available, to ensure that the emotional health that has been achieved will be long lasting.

Although inpatient treatment for mental health issues is frightening, it can be very rewarding and make the difference in a patient’s life between simply “existing” to living fully!


Deborah (Debbie) Pinkston, Ph.D.