What to expect during a mental health emergency.


When hospitalization best meets your needs.

If you are advised to be hospitalized for a mental health emergency, your successful treatment will start with a complete and accurate assessment.

Once you are stabilized, you’ll be placed in inpatient or outpatient therapy. This helpful Guide to Hospitalization can help you better understand your options.

Inpatient Psychiatric Hospitalization

There are often misconceptions in the RISD community about what circumstances might result in a student being hospitalized for mental health treatment. Please be aware that almost all hospitalizations are completely voluntary, and we consider it the very last resort to protect your safety. Reasons we might suggest hospitalization include:

  • You have disclosed a clear and immediate plan to kill yourself, and you are unable to agree to a safe plan.
  • You have disclosed a clear and immediate plan to harm someone else, and you are unable to agree to a safe plan.
  • You request a higher level of care because you feel too unsafe or unstable to function on your own.

You cannot be involuntarily hospitalized for mild thoughts of suicide. If you are having mild to moderate suicidal thoughts, we hope you will feel completely safe sharing them with your counselor. This is one of the best ways to prevent a thought from becoming something more serious. If you are having severe suicidal thoughts or thoughts with a plan, we may need to take further steps to keep you safe.

What To Expect

If you and your counselor decide that it is best for you to be screened at a hospital, or you decide to seek emergency services yourself, here is what you can expect to happen:

  • When you arrive at the hospital, you will check in and answer questions about your health insurance, your emergency contact, and other administrative details.
  • To ensure your safety and the safety of other patients, hospital staff will store your belongings in a secure place. If you need to access your belongings (e.g., your cell phone), ask a staff member for assistance.
  • Depending on the hospital, you may change into a hospital gown. You may be asked to provide a blood or urine sample to determine if any medical conditions or substances are influencing how you’re feeling. (This is purely for medical purposes and does not have legal ramifications.)
  • You will talk with members of a treatment team (usually a nurse, a social worker/counselor, and a psychiatrist) about what brought you to the hospital. They will ask questions to determine whether staying at the hospital is necessary to keep you or others safe. It is important that you are honest with providers during these conversations.
  • If your treatment team determines that you can cope safely outside the hospital, they will provide information about treatment available in the community. You will be given discharge instructions with their recommendations – please make sure to follow these! Contact CAPS if you’d like assistance connecting with recommended treatment.
  • If you live on-campus and need a ride back to RISD, contact RISD Public Safety at 401-454-6376.
  • If you live off-campus and need a ride home, ask the hospital staff if they offer taxi vouchers. You can also ride the RIPTA bus system for free with your RISD ID.
  • If your treatment team decides that you cannot cope safely outside of the hospital, you will be admitted for an inpatient stay. You may be transferred to another hospital if the one you were evaluated at does not have any available beds, but this is uncommon.
  • The clinicians and doctors at the hospital will help stabilize your symptoms. Treatment may include therapy groups, medication, and/or a meeting with your family. Hospital staff will also help you develop a post-hospitalization plan.
  • It can be helpful to sign a release for RISD CAPS. This will allow us to work together to address any school-related concerns you have, such as missed classes or worried roommates. We can work with you to arrange communications. Student Affairs can notify your professors of any expected absences. If you live on-campus, Residence Life can notify your roommates that you are safe.
  • Before leaving the hospital, ask staff to contact CAPS to schedule follow-up meetings with supports at RISD, including the CAPS Director and the Dean of Student Affairs. These meetings are opportunities to process your experience and discuss your educational and treatment plans going forward.
  • So that we can best support you, please bring a copy of your discharge instructions to your follow-up meetings at RISD, and ask hospital staff to fax a discharge summary (usually a separate document) to CAPS at 401-454-6660.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long will my initial evaluation at the hospital take?
This varies depending on your treatment team’s availability when you arrive. In general, the entire process will take somewhere between 3-8 hours. You can ask a nurse for an estimated timeline.

If I’m admitted to the hospital, how long will I stay there?
That depends on your needs. Some students stay for 1-2 days, while others stay a week or more. You will be discharged once your symptoms have been stabilized and you are able to cope safely outside of the hospital. You can ask your treatment providers for an estimated discharge date.

Will my parents know I’ve gone to the hospital?
Generally, when you are 18 or older, any mental health treatment you receive is confidential. However, if your health insurance plan is through your family, your parents might receive mail with basic information about your hospitalization, such as the hospital name, type of hospitalization, and dates. Depending on the circumstances, RISD may reach out to your emergency contact about your hospitalization.

I’m worried about missing classes while I’m in the hospital – what should I do?
Have a member of your treatment team contact CAPS at 401-454-6637. We can arrange for Student Affairs to notify your professors of any expected absences.

If you have any other questions, don’t hesitate to ask a staff member!

Important Phone Numbers

United Healthcare Student Resources
(the health insurance plan offered through RISD)

Local Hospital Patient Information Lines:

Partial Hospitalization

If you do not meet the severity to warrant an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization, a partial hospitalization may be recommended. These usually involve going to the hospital for 6 hours a day, for approximately 1 week, to receive intensive treatment, without having to stay overnight.

Partial hospitalization programs at Butler Hospital include the following programs:

Rhode Island Hospital also offers the following partial programs:

Hours & Appointments

8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Monday – Friday
Please call during business hours to schedule an appointment.

Extended Hours

8:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.

During fall and spring semesters.


72 Pine Street, 2nd floor



Need a Ride?

Use RISD’s on-demand, door-to-door transportation service.

Stay Informed

Learn facts about mental health awareness, prevention and treatment, and warning signs from our experts.