Young Adults’ Experiences of Depression in the U.S.

Depression treatment in emergency rooms and hospitals

People with depression may seek treatment in an emergency room or hospital. This intensity of care is necessary if a person is a danger to him/herself or others or is unable to take care of him/herself safely. If you or someone you care about are suicidal or homicidal you should immediately find help.

Options are to call 911 for an assessment by Emergency Medical Services, to go the emergency room, or to call the national suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

These resources will assess the level of risk a person has for hurting themselves or others. They also will provide resources for treatment, either immediately or in the future.

If inpatient treatment for a depressed person is recommended, it can occur in different ways. It may be given in the psychiatric ward of a hospital which also treats many other kinds of problems; in a psychiatric hospital which treats only mental illnesses; or in a residential treatment facility. Most commonly admission is voluntary, when a depressed person seeks help on his or her own.

Involuntary hospitalization can occur if a physician, mental health professional or law enforcement officer (depending on the state) determines that an individual is an immediate danger to him/herself or others but that person declines appropriate treatment. At that time an emergency “hold” can be ordered for a period that varies according to the state. After an assessment period the patient will have a hearing to determine if further commitment for treatment in the hospital is called for.

Of the young adults we interviewed, almost one in five had experiences being treated in the hospital.

Going to the emergency room or hospital

Most people we talked to were treated in hospitals because they were actively suicidal, or had attempted suicide. Elizabeth and Leanna received care only in emergency rooms when they were teenagers, and were then released to their parents. Elizabeth describes the experience of going to the emergency room after swallowing pills by saying she was “…so mad at myself for doing it, because at that point in my depression I kind of just wanted to hide, not talk, not deal with it.” Being brought to the emergency room by her parents made it much harder to keep hiding, but also led to getting better help and medications for her depression. 

In the United States, admission to a hospital can be driven by the availability of beds in hospitals as well as the needs for hospitalization for any given patient. The majority of people we interviewed who went to the hospital were admitted as an inpatient, either voluntarily or involuntarily.
Sierra Rose felt suicidal while she was at work, but knew she wanted to get help instead of acting on this feeling. Her mother and her boyfriend assisted her in getting to the hospital, where to her surprise they admitted her for a substantial in-patient stay.
Hospital-based treatments

People we interviewed were evenly split with respect to positive and negative experiences getting hospital treatment. Some said it was not useful or was even actively problematic: as Marty put it, “it’s not something I want to go through again, not even if I’m homeless out in a blizzard.” Ben also says he hopes never to go back, and that the presence of other people in the hospital “….means potential arguments with showers, bathrooms, and roommates and you don’t get no privacy.”

Those who benefitted from the experience included people were reluctant to go at first. Devin and Sam talked about how interacting with other depressed young adults helped them break through their isolation, build community, and gain perspective. As Devin put it, being in the hospital “helped me out,… it was nice to see that there were other kids going through the same stuff that I was going through… And they all ended up helping each other….” Other people talked about helpful intensive therapy; building specific skills to counter depression such as time management or controlling negative thoughts; or getting away from stress at home.
See also ‘Therapy and counseling’, ‘Depression, medication, and treatment choices’, and ‘Depression and suicide’.
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