What Is a Psych Unit in a Hospital?

secretary working in the psychiatric unit of a hospital

Psychiatric units are specialized hospital units designed to care for patients experiencing mental health crises. These units are staffed by a team of mental health professionals, including nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, who work together to provide comprehensive patient care. Psychiatric units are an essential part of the healthcare system, providing a safe and supportive environment for patients who need intensive treatment for mental health issues.

If you’re a nurse considering working in psychiatric nursing, keep reading to learn more about the purpose of psychiatric units, the typical patients they provide care for, and how the unit operates. This blog post also links to some of our favorite behind-the-scenes tours of hospital psych units to give you a better idea of what to expect if you’re considering psychiatric nursing. 

The Purpose of a Psych Unit

A psychiatric unit is a facility located in a hospital that is dedicated to treating patients with severe psychiatric symptoms or mental disorders that cannot be adequately met in an outpatient setting. These conditions may include psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major mood disorders, major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

People who are severely emotionally disturbed or experiencing mania may also be admitted to a psych unit. Patients include people of all different ages and backgrounds. Most individuals admitted to a psych unit do so voluntarily, typically when they may pose a danger to themselves or others. 

How Is a Psych Unit Different from a Psychiatric Center?

Psychiatric support is diverse, from scheduled, regular appointments with a psychiatrist to being admitted to a mental hospital or psychiatric center. Unlike a psych unit which is a hospital ward, psychiatric centers are entirely dedicated to providing psychiatric support to patients. 

A psych unit is a mental healthcare facility that operates as an individual section of a general hospital, providing short-term, high-intensity care. This care is designed to stabilize patients until they can be safely transferred out of treatment. 

Psychiatric centers are similar to psych wards regarding the services they provide and the patients treated. However, mental hospitals and centers provide long-term mental health care, whereas general hospitals typically offer shorter-term emergency care. Mental hospitals, on the other hand, offer different levels of care and typically keep patients for an extended period of time to help them stabilize long-term. 

Other psychiatric support centers also offer a wider range of services, such as holistic and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, while psych units mainly offer standard clinical mental health care.     

Locked, secure psych units often comprise patients admitted involuntarily with little freedom during their stay, according to doctors, as these patients often have a history of violence—but this doesn’t apply to all patients, as some are voluntarily admitted. Those who seek treatment voluntarily enjoy more freedom and have the right to leave or refuse treatment, which is a contested issue in psychiatric care.

How Does a Psych Unit Operate?

  • Admission: In a general hospital, admission to the psychiatric unit is done through the emergency department or by referral from a general practitioner or psychiatrist. 
  • Intake and assessment: Once admitted, patients are taken to a psychiatrist to assess and discuss their thoughts and feelings, medical history, and concerns. If permissible, the psychiatrist may also speak with relatives and friends to gather additional information on the patient’s condition. The patient may also undergo brain scans and/or blood tests as part of their assessment. 
  • Treatment plan: After the assessment, the psychiatrist or health team uses the information gathered to develop a personalized treatment plan based on the patient’s condition. 
  • Supervision: Psych units generally have nurses on site twenty-four hours a day to look after the patients. Psychiatrists, however, generally conduct ward rounds to further assess patients and discuss their progress or any other concerns. 

What Is a Psych Unit in a Hospital? Final Thoughts

Now that you know what a psych unit in a hospital is, how a psych unit is different from a psychiatric center, and how a psych unit operates, you may be considering exploring this specialty as a nurse. 

Nursa’s comprehensive guide to psych nursing provides all the information you need to know about this specialty, including how to become a psych nurse, what psych nursing is like, psych nurse duties, psych nurse certification, tips for new psych nurses, and more.

Read More About this specialty

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