I once threatened to do an entry about my hospital stay, and someone asked me about it, so I thought I would finally do it.
The first thing I want to say is that my experience will be in no way typical. I went in for a specific problem that is probably different from anyone else's, I went to a specific hospital whose treatment program is probably different from anywhere else's, and I encountered a group of fellow patients who are probably different from anywhere else, and who came and went at random during my stay. What I'm trying to say is, please do not base a decision about whether to seek hospital treatment for yourself, based on what happened to me.
That said, some background: I admitted myself to a hospital on December 30, 2007, because after an argument with my wife, I ran out of the house in only pants and socks in 40-degree Fahrenheit weather, having no idea where I was going except possibly to jump from a highway overpass. I went to the police station instead, and after an evaluation, committed myself to a hospital. I ended up staying for nine days, though that may be an unusually long stay.
Some parts of it were scary; one of my two roommates for part of the time was on a court-ordered stay because of violent tendencies. Once he'd stabilized and they took him away, though, I had no fears for my safety on the ward. Some parts of it were funny; I met some nice people, folks just like you and me (heh). I met young girls with fresh cutting scars and stories of failed overdoses; an Iranian man about my age with a depression so deep that even medicated, he rarely got out of bed, at first; an alcoholic with a problem so severe he had accepted being homeless, who challenged me to chess matches and even won some. One or two patients were fighting psychoses so severe as to make interaction with the rest of us essentially impossible.
The staff in the ward earned my deep respect during that time. It was a short-stay ward; having a patient there longer than a week was unusual. Most people improve in that time, but they're hardly cured when they leave, and the turnover is constant. Yet the staff (nurses and technicians, mostly, with maybe one doctor since it was the New Years holiday) treated each patient as a person, no matter what their reason for being there. Although there was no real organized one-on-one counseling, they had a series of sessions at intervals throughout the day, to give us something to do and think about. They made no effort to fill the day, however, and the wide range of patient issues made it difficult to focus on any one type of problem.
The bulk of the "therapy", in fact, seemed to be patient-to-patient. There was a tendency, because we had so much idle time, to gather into groups of people with similar problems. These groups tended to become very close quickly, and the bonding and transference was a big source of comfort. In fact, although I'm not very social as a person, even I would interact with these groups. The sharing was made easier by the organized group sessions held by the staff, where each person, each day, was expected to say a little bit about themselves as an introduction. After that, it was easier to get into details in the social groups; the ice had been broken.
Anyway, as I said, my stay was longer than average. Partly because I had good insurance, and partly because going home to my wife was not an exceedingly attractive prospect. In fact, that was the first time that it was clear to me the extent to which I was letting her way of talking to me affect how I felt.
Overall, I probably won't ever go back to a hospital. Sure, if I were in the same position, walking down the street considering suicide my only option, I would go back. So, in that sense, it provided me with a safe place at a critical time. However, I think the experience has made me quite determined not to reach that point again. I hope the same for anyone reading this.