Sometimes, bipolar mood episodes and symptoms require psychiatric hospitalization. Here’s what I found useful during my psychiatric hold and that helped me to cope and heal.
Unprepared for Hospitalization
Soon after we had moved, I found myself in an unexpected situation. As the police SUV rattled along the highway, I finally had a chance to take stock of my circumstances. Had I really just called 911 on myself? Was I really being put on a psychiatric hold?
Other than the phone and wallet in my pocket, I carried a small gym bag with a few books and other clothing items. I had scraped together a few toiletries, too.
But we had just moved the week before, and I wasn’t sure where to find everything I needed. For toiletries, I ended up with an assortment of travel-size bottles, no deodorant, and a disposable razor that was confiscated when I checked into the psychiatric hospital.
I used the communal phone by the nurses’ station to dial my husband every day with new requests: a pillow that didn’t feel like a rock, takeout pizza (only some patients were allowed outside food), plastic flip-flops for the shower. Oh, and that deodorant that I forgot to pack in the chaos of the moment.
Preparing for Inpatient Care for Bipolar
A year later, I considered hospitalization for the second time when a medication transition didn’t go as expected. While we were able to manage this crisis at home, for two weeks I kept a packed bag by the door with everything I would need if I went inpatient again.
After my first five-day stay, I knew exactly what I needed to make the hospital more comfortable—and what wouldn’t even be allowed in the ward (I’m looking at you, shoelaces).
So, I present to you my recommended packing list for your next inpatient stay at a psychiatric hospital. It’s something I will refer back to personally the next time I am a danger to myself.
What to Pack for Psychiatric Hospitalization
Shower Flip Flops: For keeping your showers hygienic because the cleanliness of the showers will be hit-or-miss
Blanket and Pillow: Provides emotional and physical comfort not offered by the standard bedding available in a psych ward
Ear Plugs: In case one of your roommates snores, so you don’t have to go through the trouble of finding an aide at 2 a.m.
Slip-On Sneakers: Because shoelaces, belts, etc., are not allowed when you are inpatient (for obvious reasons)
Phone List: So you can call your friends and family with updates even though you don’t have your phone
Softcover Books: Apparently, hardcover books are a safety risk (see “slip-on sneakers”)
Reminders of Your Outside Identity: In my case, I brought a zip-up jacket from my running group, tinted lip balm, and mascara
Clothes: 3–4 days’ worth (with no drawstrings); leggings are highly recommended for women
Insurance Card: So the hospital can bill your insurance for your stay
Toiletries in Plastic Containers: No glass bottles allowed, nothing sharp
Photos: Of loved ones, pets, and favorite places—to counterbalance the sterility and detachment of the psych ward
Refillable Water Bottle: Because the paper cups available by the water cooler are too small if you’re on certain medications that cause dehydration or are used to drinking 8+ cups of water a day
Different Requirements & Permissions
Note that your experiences and the requirements of each facility may vary. I stayed on two different floors and what was allowed or not allowed was very different between the two. For example, I was permitted to have snacks with me on one floor, but not while staying on the other.
I also found that the rules varied, somewhat, depending on the nurse in charge. I was allowed to keep my toiletries (minus the razor) with me at check-in, but people who checked in the next day had to keep theirs in the storage room and ask for access. There may be some natural inconsistencies from person to person, which can be a cause for confusion, so be prepared for human error and different standards.
I hope this list gives you an idea of what to bring if you need to be hospitalized in the midst of a bipolar mood episode. Let me know in the comments if you have a good idea for something else to add to this list so that we can all be better prepared for the best treatment outcomes!