What Is a Psychiatric Ward?

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  • Written By: B. Chisholm
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2019
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A psychiatric ward is a hospital or specific ward in a hospital which caters to people with either acute or chronic psychiatric disorders. There are many different kinds of psychiatric facilities as there is a broad range of psychiatric conditions that all require different forms and lengths of treatment. A psychiatric ward may have formal or informal inpatients.

Informal inpatients are those who have chosen to admit themselves into the psychiatric ward voluntarily. Formal patients have been committed, sectioned or placed in the psychiatric ward involuntarily, either by their doctor, family member or concerned person, usually because they are considered to be a danger to themselves or others. Different countries have different laws regarding involuntary placement in a psychiatric ward and they should be strictly adhered to.

Psychiatric disorders can range from mild to severe depression involving suicidal thoughts or attempts, addictions, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, various forms of psychosis and schizophrenia, to name a few. There are a large number of psychiatric conditions which may need short- or long-term treatment in a psychiatric ward. Often patients may be admitted during an acute phase of a psychiatric illness, such as acute psychosis or suicidal thoughts. During their stay as an inpatient they can then be cared for and stabilized on suitable treatment in a safe environment.


Depending on what psychiatric conditions are being treated, the psychiatric ward can range from open to high security and everything between. An example of a low security option is a halfway house, or a place where patients who have been stabilized in treatment stay temporarily while being reintegrated into society. While there, they may go out freely for a certain amount of time each day, returning to the psychiatric ward each evening.

At the other extreme is the high security psychiatric ward, often placed within a prison. Psychiatric patients who have committed violent crimes or are considered a danger to society are placed here. This may be a short-term stay, where criminals are being observed for psychotic tendencies or long-term, in those diagnosed as criminally dangerous.

General psychiatric wards, which may form part of a general hospital, usually only take in patients short term, that is from a week up to several months. During this time the patient undergoes intensive treatment including diagnosis and stabilization on psychiatric medication where necessary. Other, non-drug-measures are often included in the treatment program. These include counseling, relaxation therapy, support groups and physical therapy.


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