Psychiatric Hospitalization

A recent survey examining the statistics of all patients admitted to mental health wards in Okanagan hospitals between January and March revealed interesting information about psychiatric hospitalization in our region.

Men and women were equally represented and the average age for all admissions was 39.

Sixty-six percent of all admissions to psychiatric wards came from hospital emergency rooms. In other words, most patients arrive at the hospital during a crisis situation and are admitted for more specific treatment. Further, 35 % of patients were admitted because of a risk of intentional self harm or suicide.

Substance abuse and dependency is another factor that plays a major role in hospital use and is a serious problem in Okanagan psychiatric wards.

Of those admitted from the emergency room, one quarter were intoxicated when they arrived and substance use problems contributed to the need for admission in fully 45% of all patients admitted to psychiatric wards whether brought in from the ER or directly from the community.

This shows a need for combined psychiatric and chemical dependency treatment in the Okanagan. Unfortunately, this kind of integrated approach is still in its infancy in Kelowna as there are not enough resources or professionals who are comfortable dealing with both mental health and substance abuse problems. Also, there is a lack of facilities that are appropriate for both needs.

Better resources in this area would likely lead to a reduction in hospital admissions and suicides. Alcohol is a major factor in suicides and acts of violence.

When admitted, 32% of patients were experiencing an acute psychotic episode, 59% reported a depressed mood and 33% were not adhering to their previously prescribed treatments. Typically, patients remained in the hospital for an average of nine days while 34% stayed between one and three days. Many of these very brief admissions could likely be avoided altogether with better crisis stabilization facilities allowing for immediate intervention by a knowledgeable professional. This would serve patients better and reduce the need for valuable hospital beds.

The purpose of psychiatric admission is to quickly stabilize acute crisis situations, protect individuals who are at risk of harming themselves or others and set up long term treatment plans. Although it often surprises family members, most people are not in complete remission of symptoms when they are discharged from the hospital and are also not admitted unless they really can't manage in the community.

After a short hospital stay, individuals will usually still require follow up care at mental health clinics or with individual psychiatrists, addiction workers or other health care providers in the community.

Family members of mentally ill individuals should be aware that their loved one will likely only be hospitalized for a short period and may not be completely recovered when discharged.

Also, due to patient confidentiality regulations, hospital staff can only communicate with family members if the patient agrees to this. While family can provide information to the treatment team, the team may not be at liberty to discuss treatment plans with family if the patient doesn't want them to. This can be frustrating at times for family members who want to help.

Involuntary hospital admissions are sometimes necessary, but there are strict regulations surrounding them. These measures are only taken if a mentally ill individual is in danger of coming to harm if he or she is not hospitalized. Simply having a mental illness is not grounds enough to place people in treatment against their will. Forty-eight percent of all admissions in the Okanagan were involuntary.

Finally, 12 % of patients were homeless at the time of admission. More affordable housing would go a long way to reducing these admissions. Living on the street is not good for your mental health!


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