How to Pack For an Admission to a Mental Health Unit

Here is a short article written because of all the arguments and questions we get when we have to confiscate items that patients bring with them into the psychiatric hospital.  We do have a printed list of acceptable and unacceptable items that we give to the patients’ families, but sometimes they simply forget or are too stressed to read anything.  I felt that having this article online would give them another avenue to learn what they needed to know.

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By Shirley K Williams

If you know that you will be admitted to a mental health unit, you can be prepared to pack correctly.  Unfortunately, most people do not have advance awareness of an impending admission to a psychiatric facility.  Usually, a person is brought in with only the clothes on his back.  Later, family or friends usually pack and bring items from home and this is where the problems occur.

Many items that you think are perfectly normal do not meet the criteria to be allowed onto a psychiatric floor.  There are usually very strict protocols in place to define what is and is not allowed to the floors.  People are very surprised to learn what has to be taken back home.  That said, let’s explore the reasons for these restrictions.

First, safety is always an issue on the unit.  When you are told that you cannot bring your toenail clippers, you respond that you don’t plan to hurt yourself with them.  However, there are other people present in the environment that may.  When you are first brought onto the unit, you don’t have any idea what problems or issues anyone else is dealing with and even if you can contract to be safe, there may be others who cannot.

Some of the items that will be considered contraband and refused are:  belts, shoe strings, razors, electric hygiene items, scissors or clippers, clothing with strings or lots of metal rings and zippers, shirts with alcohol or drug slogans, spiral notebooks, hygiene items with alcohol in them like mouthwash, personally prescribed medications, over the counter medications, art supplies, writing pens and pencils with erasers on the ends, underwire bras, jewelry, make-up, or large amounts of cash.

Everything that is brought into the hospital will be thoroughly gone through and checked.  The above items in no way signify the entire list of forbidden items.  Every facility has its own rules, but almost all will exclude the above items.

Please do not get angry when you cannot have something specific from home.  These rules are there to maintain the safety of all people on the unit, both patients and staff.  Please do not bring these items to the hospital with you as your family will be asked to take them back home.  If there is not anyone to take these items, they will be stored in a Contraband area until you go home again.  Unfortunately, this leaves room for items to be misplaced or lost; there usually is not much storage room to begin with so space is limited.

Most hospitals will not take responsibility for your personal belongings, so if they become lost you have no recourse.  The best way to prevent loss or theft of your personal items is to only bring what is necessary and to leave inappropriate items at home.  You will only need clothing for a couple of days as most units will have access to washing machines.  You will need something to sleep in that keeps you covered because staff will be making rounds throughout the night and will enter your room to make a visual check on you at 15 to 20 minute intervals.  You will be encouraged to dress each morning, so you will need to bring street clothing.

Hopefully, by reading this article you will be better prepared in the event you ever have to go to a psychiatric hospital to be admitted.  By packing correctly, you will avoid loss of personal property and you will avoid any upset.

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