I have been extremely depressed for a very long time. I’ve been getting help but I am still suicidal. Last night I nearly overdosed or slit my wrists in the bathtub (I hadn’t decided which) I’m beginning to feel like that again today. I’ve been toy in with the idea of admitting myself to a psychiatric hospital. Do you think I should? How long is the average stay?

A. You are contemplating ending your life and have specific plans for how you might do it. You describe yourself as extremely depressed and your suicidal thoughts are getting worse, not better. In that case, yes, you should be evaluated at a psychiatric hospital. Trained hospital staff will conduct an in-depth evaluation and determine if an inpatient stay is necessary. Typically, if you cannot “contract for safety” (i.e. agree not to harm yourself ) they will probably admit you to the inpatient unit.

How long you would stay in the hospital is dependent upon many things, such as: the severity of your suicidal ideation, your ability to keep yourself safe, the intensity of your symptoms, among other things.

The average hospital stay in an inpatient psychiatric unit is fairly short ranging from 1 to 7 days but this can vary. The goal of contemporary psychiatric hospitalization is safety. Once safety is no longer an issue, the hospital staff would then develop a comprehensive discharge plan for outpatient care. Many hospitals have highly developed discharge planning services. They recognize the importance of connecting patients to follow-up care.

By the time you read this letter, several weeks will likely have passed. Don’t hesitate to seek emergency assistance if you fear that you might harm yourself. I hope that you are able to receive the help that you desire. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle