Depression: How to Survive a Psych Emergency Intake

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Early in my “major-episode-of-depression” journey, I tried some family doctor-prescribed antidepressants. They didn’t work for me, and in our health care system, it seemed clear that there would be a several-month-long waitlist to see a specialist. Instead, it was recommended that I present myself to the local university hospital and prepare to be helped by their emergency clinic, held within their psychiatry ward. Ultimately, I was helped. In the moment, however, I was unnerved, afraid, wary, and suspicious.

Here’s how I survived, and how you could make a similar situation gentler on yourself.

  1. Bring a friend.  The friend I brought was matter-of-fact, non-reactionary, and completely steady. She worked on marking student assignments while I worked on filling out a fourteen-page intake questionnaire. (Those of you who have suffered the difficulties in concentrating that accompany depression will understand the basic challenge surrounding this).
  2. Be convinced that you will be helped. These are professionals, and they are people. Their education will help them to make good decisions in helping you, and their humanness might mean that it could take some questioning and time: the mental equivalent of X-rays and other poking and prodding that happens when you present with a physical illness.
  3. Be honest. Your situation is neither worse nor better than you attempt to make it out to be. Being honest and being in medical care are both important steps on your journey to feeling well.
  4. Bring a drink and a snack. You might be there a while. Similarly, bring an easy-reading magazine or your ipod filled with your most comfort-creating music.
  5. Be sure that, if your friend cannot stay the entire time, you have someone ready and available to pick you up when it’s all over. The experience might be one of the longest times you have been away from home in a while, and it will likely be difficult. Try to accept their help.
  6. Find the humour. For me, I coped by noting the ridiculousness of my first counsellor’s appearance, and later wrote about it. It made it easier at the time to wonder if I might be able to somehow tell others about it and laugh, sooner or later.

Know that you are doing what’s best for yourself, and that you will be helped.

If you live in a centre that does not have specific emergency psychiatric help, and you are feeling unwell for an extended period, or you have feelings of harming yourself or someone else, find a way to get to the general emergency area of your local hospital, where someone can help you.

If you aren’t sure whether you are depressed, but think that you might be, seek help from your family doctor, or begin by checking out the simple Mayo Clinic depression self-assessment link.

Have you had to take care of yourself in a difficult way, like seeking emergency medical help for your mental health? What worked to make it easier for you? How were you able to find small pockets of comfort in an uncomfortable place?

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I am writing this because I had an experience. I am in no way a medical professional. I had an experience, and I have learned a lot from it, and that’s the foundation of all of this. You are reading the fifth in a series of thirteen articles on surviving depression. Find the first four articles here.

5 thoughts on “Depression: How to Survive a Psych Emergency Intake

  1. Thank you so much Lori-Ann for sharing your experience. I suffer from chronic depression, and my family has a history of needing to be admitted to psychiatric wards on occasion. Though I have been lucky to not experience this myself, I have always been afraid of it. Your beautiful, simple, honest words have helped me beyond measure.

    1. Cindy: the glib-me wants to joke about the fine line between brave and crazy. But the bigger me knows that it’s time to talk, on some level, about things that are difficult and often hidden. Thank you for your encouragement!

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