Mclean Hospital
Guides to Care

Student Guide to Mental Health Treatment

Helpful Information for Patients, Families, and Friends

This section answers your questions about obtaining treatment at McLean—and what happens after your treatment is finished.

How Do I Know if I Need to Go to the Hospital?

  • Are you suicidal?
  • Are you feeling depressed, overwhelmed, or scared to the point that you are thinking of hurting yourself or someone else?
  • Is your use of substances out of control?
  • Is your anxiety preventing you from functioning at school or work?
  • Is your stress level so high you are unable to take care of your basic needs like sleep, personal hygiene, and eating?
  • Are you having hallucinations, or do you feel that people are plotting against you or trying to hurt you?
  • Are you having thoughts that are expansive and grandiose or not your own?
  • Are people telling you that they are scared and worried about your emotional state or your behaviors?

If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, you should go to the hospital.

What’s Going to Happen in the Hospital?

You may be wondering what exactly will happen while you are a patient at McLean:

  • First, a member of the nursing staff will provide a general orientation. Feel free to ask questions or share your concerns.
  • When you are admitted, you will be assigned an individual treatment team consisting of medical professionals who will take care of you during your stay. If you would like a written list of their names, you can ask your nurse.
  • During the day, you will meet with the members of your treatment team, including your doctors and a case manager.
  • You will attend different groups throughout the day. These can include anything from exercising in the gym to learning about the various activities to help you when you are not feeling well. You will learn skills in these groups to use when you leave the hospital. To determine which groups you are supposed to attend, check the whiteboard across from the nursing station.
  • You will check in with your nurse throughout the day. If you have any questions, your nurse is a good place to start. He or she will also be the one to give you your medication. Nurses change shifts but they will always introduce themselves at the beginning of their shifts.
  • Throughout the day, you will also have the opportunity to meet other patients. Many times, it can be helpful to talk to other people and realize that you are not the only one dealing with issues.
  • At the end of your stay, during the discharge process, a case manager will help you plan what you are going to do once you leave the hospital. This could include finding an outpatient psychiatrist, therapist, support groups, community resources, and more.

Will I Ever Finish College?

Going into a psychiatric hospital does not mean you will never go to college. If you are already enrolled, it does not mean you will not graduate.

Many people are able to transition back to outpatient mental health care. With proper support and treatment, integrating into the college community is possible. The section Real-Life Stories includes a few vignettes of young people who have successfully returned to college after being in a psychiatric hospital.

Whether you are in the hospital voluntarily or against your will, you have rights that will be explained later in this guide.

Also, it is in your best interest to participate in your care, as mental illness treatment is an ongoing process. McLean has special resources to assist college students with school-related issues you may be facing.

A Quick Note About School

Doing well in school may be very important to you. It may be distressing to not be able to get your usual amount of studying done while you are in the hospital. This is all very understandable, but it is important for you to get well. You will be much more productive in your classes once you are stabilized.

McLean Policies and FAQs

Depending on where you are being treated at McLean Hospital, some of the policies will vary. Ask your nurse for the rules and regulations for your specific program.

  • What belongings am I allowed to keep in my room?
  • What times can I access my other belongings?
  • What is the policy for cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices?
  • When am I allowed to use the unit phone? What is the phone number?
  • Where/how can I access the internet?
  • What is the visiting policy? When are visiting hours?
  • When are meals served? Where can I find snacks between meals?
  • How long can I expect to be on this unit?
  • Who is on my treatment team? Who are my physicians? Case managers? Nurses? Mental health specialists?
  • Where can I find the schedule of activities for the program?
  • When does my unit visit the gym?
  • What groups are offered? What times?
  • What can I do to earn privileges on and off the unit?
  • If I need help during the day or night, what should I do?

McLean Hospital is a nonsmoking hospital; smoking is not allowed on any of the units. See a staff member for designated smoking areas outdoors.

The majority (80 to 90%) of people who receive treatment for depression experience significant improvement, and almost all individuals gain some relief from their symptoms. However, if untreated, the symptoms of depression can last months to years. –

Roles of McLean Hospital Staff

Your treatment team members are listed below. It is important to understand that the team works closely to provide you with the best possible compassionate and effective care. Team members will work together to get to know you as a person and determine your mental health difficulty (your diagnosis), and will work with you to decide on the best treatment plan after discharge. On some inpatient units, you will have a resident psychiatrist in addition to your attending psychiatrist. On units that do not have resident psychiatrists, your attending psychiatrist or psychiatrist in charge (PIC) will be the one to speak with you daily and order your tests and medications.

Attending Psychiatrists

A faculty psychiatrist will be in charge of your care. He/she will see you regularly and will be kept informed of your progress by other staff.

Resident Psychiatrist

Resident psychiatrists are medical doctors who are completing their training in psychiatry. Residents will provide your routine psychiatric care. They will see you every weekday and order your medications as well as other tests.

Case Managers

The case management staff works with you to ensure appropriate communication with your family, outside caregivers, and university staff and officials. Case managers will lead your family meetings and will be the primary staff working with you on aftercare plans and follow-up care.


Nurses do more than administer your medications. They are an integral member of the clinical team who help coordinate your care, communicate across different roles on your team, provide counseling and support, and answer many of your questions. A specific nurse will be assigned to your care on a daily basis.

Expressive Therapists

Expressive therapists are master’s-level clinicians who provide both patient and symptom education and therapeutic arts-based groups on the inpatient units. These groups offer valuable opportunities for patients to learn skills, to gain insight, and to connect interpersonally to other group members.


Psychologists are not as active on inpatient units as they are in other areas of the hospital, but they still may play a role in your hospitalization, including conducting testing and group therapy and serving as case managers.

Evening and Weekend Clinicians

At least one psychiatrist and one medical physician are present on the hospital grounds 24 hours per day, seven days per week. On weekends and holidays, a “rounder” or covering psychiatrist briefly meets with every patient on the unit. A social worker is also available if you are admitted on a weekend. In addition to all the professionals listed above, you may be seen by consulting physicians about medical problems you may have. You may also have a medical student working on your treatment team and involved in your care.


If you are feeling up to it, you might want friends and family to visit you. Of course, you do not have to invite visitors if you are not comfortable. You also have the right to refuse visitors. Sometimes visitors can only come to the hospital during a certain time because of work, family, or other obligations. Visitors who need to come outside of regular visiting hours should call the nursing station.

Visitors can also bring items you might want or need to make you more comfortable during your stay. You might ask visitors to bring:

  • Extra clothing (sweatshirts, jeans, pajamas, socks, underwear, etc.)
  • Slippers
  • Magazines
  • MP3 player
  • Pay-in-advance, camera-less cell phones
  • Books
  • Shampoo, toothbrush/toothpaste, shower gel, etc. (while toiletries are provided, you might want your own)
  • Extra paper for journaling
  • Homework, but only if you are up to it

Be sure to remember that some items are not allowed on the unit for safety and privacy reasons. These include:

  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Drugs/medications
  • Razors
  • Scissors
  • Knives
  • Mirrors
  • Other sharp objects
  • Tape recorders
  • Cameras/smartphones
  • Soda cans
  • Glass picture frames
  • Computers (depends on the unit)

Check with your nurse if you are not sure about what is or is not allowed.

Your Rights as a Patient and Student

It is important to know your rights as a patient and use all the available resources at McLean to help yourself feel better. You will receive a copy of your patient rights when you are admitted to McLean. Take time to talk to your treatment team if you have any questions.

In 2008, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a national legal advocacy organization representing people with mental health disabilities, published an important document: Campus Mental Health: Know Your Rights!

This guide for college and university students will help you understand your legal rights when seeking mental health services. It also explains what you can expect in your interactions with mental health service providers and what obligations you might have.


Your identity and personal information is protected by McLean policies and federal law.

Medical Records

You may obtain a copy of your medical records by submitting a written request to McLean’s Health Information Management Department.


All communication with your treatment team is strictly confidential. This means unless you give permission, no one at McLean can disclose information about your treatment to your school, your friends, or even your family.

Research Studies

It is your choice whether to participate in a McLean research study. McLean is a teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. This means that during and after your stay, you will have the opportunity to participate in research studies and interviews, if you chose to do so.


  • Research studies are optional
  • You can talk to your treatment team to learn more about the studies
  • You can discontinue participation in a research study at any point with no consequences to your continued treatment

For more information about patient confidentiality, visit McLean’s privacy page.

My Diagnosis

People come to McLean Hospital in all stages of recovery. You may already have one or more psychiatric diagnoses or an idea of what is going on with you. Conversely, you may not have any prior mental health issues. While you are in the hospital you will see a psychiatrist regularly, so it could be helpful to write down your concerns. Nurses will also be available at all times to answer your questions about your diagnosis.

  • What is my diagnosis?
  • What are my medications?
  • What questions do I have about my diagnosis?
  • What symptoms or feelings do I need to tell the doctor about?
  • What fears do I have about my diagnosis?
  • What future concerns do I have?

Goals of My Hospitalization

It can be helpful to organize your thoughts about your goals:

  • Before my hospitalization, what activities was I having difficulties with?
  • What was I worried about?
  • Why did I come to the hospital?
  • What hopes to I have for this hospitalization?
  • What am I most concerned about? Grades? Family? Future? Friends? Health? Body?
  • What else?

Family and Friends Contact Sheet

It can be especially anxiety-provoking to call family and friends after being in the hospital. To guide the conversation, jot down your thoughts before making the call.

  • What are my thoughts before the conversation?
  • Who do I want to contact today?
  • What do I want to talk to him/her about?
  • What am I afraid to talk to this person about?
  • What do I want to say?

After the conversation:

  • What did we talk about?
  • How do I feel now?

Leaving the Hospital

Once you are feeling better and your treatment team agrees that you are well enough to be discharged from the hospital, there are a few last-minute things you must do:

  • Make sure you have your outpatient appointments, you understand where they are and how to get there, and you have a phone number (in case you need further directions or need to change times)
  • Make sure you get a letter for school documenting that you had a medical emergency
  • If you asked your case manager for any information on community resources, make sure you receive it
  • Make sure you understand what medications you are taking, why you are taking them, and what side effects you might need to look for; make sure you understand the dosage instructions
  • If you are taking certain drugs (like lithium) that require labs, make sure you are clear on when they need to be done
  • If medications are being ordered from the hospital pharmacy, make sure you have them before you leave; make sure you have your prescriptions
  • Take all of your belongings from your bathroom, your bedside table, and your dresser; your nurse can provide you with plastic bags if you need them
  • If you lent anything to anyone, make sure you ask for it back
  • When your nurse returns any possessions you may have had in the hospital safe, double check to see that you have everything you came with
  • Ask remaining questions: you should leave with a full understanding of what your next steps will be
  • Know what you are supposed to do if your symptoms return
  • Make sure you know how you are getting home (family member, friend, bus, taxi, etc.)

My Back-to-School Plan

Once you leave the hospital, you may feel overwhelmed with a lot of things to do. However, it is important to take care of yourself and take everything slowly. Plan things out ahead of time so you are not overwhelmed by the amount of course work and exams to make up.

Step 1. List your courses and each professor’s contact information.

Step 2. Call/email each professor to schedule an appointment. You might feel more comfortable talking to your professors if you plan what to say.

Remember: When you meet with your professor, you do not have to provide information about your condition. You will have a note from the hospital saying you were there, but it will not include any information about your condition or the reason why you were there. Your records are completely private and can be shared only with your permission.

Step 3. Make a professor meeting form. Be sure to include:

  • Class name
  • Professor’s name
  • Appointment time
  • Meeting location
  • Professor’s phone number/email
  • How long you have missed the class
  • What you have missed (for example, the material that has been covered in lectures)
  • What your concerns are about this particular class
  • Other students in the class to contact for extra help
  • Assignments and their due dates
  • Advice from your professor about making up work and getting caught up

Remember: If you run into any problems with professors, contact the dean’s office or disability services at your school.