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Navigating the Mental Health System - Part III

Posted on May 4, 2012 at 2:25 AM

Visiting Hospital

Hello again! This is part three of the Navigating the Mental Health System series - Visiting Hospital.

Going to hospital for a mental health condition can be an anxiety provoking prospect. Admission to hospital for mental health reasons is not something that is commonly talked about, and many people find it an extremely confronting process.

However, going to hospital can also be a life changing experience. Many people identify going to hospital as the turning point in their illness. It can be a place where mental health issues can be thoroughly explored and correctly diagnosed, where skills are taught to mange your illness, and a safe place to recuperate until you are able to manage on your own.

This article is about how and when people typically decide to go hospital, and what your rights and responsibilities are once you get there.


When should I consider going to hospital?

An admission to hospital is something that you should consider if –

You are having thoughts of suicide, harming yourself, or harming others

You are experiencing periods of being out of touch with reality, or feel out of control

You are seeing or hearing things that other people say they cannot see or hear

You are having difficulty maintaining basic daily routines such as showering, brushing your teeth, cooking yourself meals or getting yourself to work.


How do I arrange a visit to hospital?

If you are in serious trouble, considering imminent suicide or self harm, you should contact 000. They will transport you to your nearest hospital for assessment.*

If you are able to wait, but know that the situation is worsening, you will need to speak to your GP, who will can contact your local community mental health team and recommend an assessment.

If you live in the inner west or westernsuburbs of Sydney, this will normally be the Mental Health Access Line (1800 011 511) which is available 24hrs.

The best person to speak to at your local hospital for further information about admission is usually the Intake Worker or Intake Officer of the mental health unit of your local hospital.


Can I be admitted to hospital against my wishes?

Mental health professionals are bound by somethingcalled the “duty of least restrictive care”. This means that if there is another method of appropriate treatment available to you (such as remaining at home, treatment within the community, or treatment by a private psychologist) the are required by law to explore this option with you first.

Under certain circumstances you can be admitted to hospital against your wishes. The legal document that outlines when this can occur is the NSW Mental Health Act (2007). You can only be admitted to hospital involuntarily if you have been assessed by two medical professional to be “mentally ill” or “mentally disordered”. At least one of these medical professionals must be a psychiatrist.

The criteria for these classifications is very strict, and usually you cannot be admitted against your wishes unless there is a serious concern for your safety, or unless a mental health professional believes that you are so unwell that you cannot provide consent.


What are my rights as a hospital patient?

Unless you are an involuntary patient, you have the right to leave the hospital at any time.

Unless you are an involuntary patient, youhave the right to refuse treatment. If you are an involuntary patient, you still need to be informed of the kind of treatment you are receiving, and any potential risks associated with it.

You have a right to maintain contact withyour family and friends, including making phone calls, receiving mail, and seeing visitors.

You have a right to privacy. This includesthe right to spend time alone and in private with your partner/s.

You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, and the right to safety.


What are my responsibilities as a hospital patient?

As a hospital patient, you have a responsibility to remain courteous and respectful towards staff and other patients.

You have a responsibility to abide by any occupational health and safety requirements the hospital might have.

You have a responsibility to refrain from using any intoxicating substances while you are on hospital grounds. This is for the health and safety of the staff and other patients.

Due to the dangers of passive smoking, you have a responsibility to refrain from smoking during your stay in hospital. Hospital staff will usually provide you with nicotine replacement, and assistance to quit smoking, if this is an issue for you.


Want to find out more?

For more information on your rights as a hospital patient, and a more thorough explanation of the mental health act, you can visit the website of the Mental Health Co-ordinating Council.

If you believe that your rights have been breached in any way during your stay in hospital, you can contact the Mental Health Advocacy Service on 02 9745 4277.


*Medicare does not cover the cost of ambulances, but there are some instances in which you will not be charged for using the ambulance service.

Categories: Mental health, Educational

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