Packing for the Hospital

ErinEmergency, Psych Ward, The Mental Health System14 Comments

avisittothehospitalYou’re in crisis and decide that you need to go to the hospital. So what do you take with you?

In this post, I’m going to give you a few tips and then a few lists that should help you with packing. :)

Pack lightly, try to think of the things you use in a day to be comfortable, and don’t over think it. If you realize you need something later, you can get a friend or family member to bring it to you.

Remember, hospitals are about safety and security, and will take away any items that may be used to harm yourself. This includes mirrors (they’re glass & could be broken), razors, and tweezers.

When you’re first admitted, it’s hospital policy to put your belongings in a locker. As far as I know, this goes with most floors of the hospital, not just psych, because the hospital doesn’t want to be held responsible for lost or stolen items. Hospital staff can open your locker for you when you need something. Also, if you take something with you that you aren’t allowed to have or decide you don’t need, you can send it home with a parent or friend who visits you.

If you have family or friends who could bring you stuff from home later, then definitely keep that in mind when packing for admission. You can always get more stuff brought to you. Think necessities only! You don’t know for sure that you’ll be admitted, and if you are, you might have to wait in the ER for at least 24 hours before they have a bed ready for you on the psychiatric unit. The fewer belongings you have with you, the fewer things you need to keep track of.

In general, I’ve found that the longer you’ve been at the hospital (days or even just hours), the more hospital staff tends to trust you to have your stuff out and not locked away.  They know that it is boring to be in the hospital, and you have to pass the time somehow. They’ll let you keep a book or some magazines or sometimes your phone as long as you don’t make phone calls or take photos/videos, for confidentiality reasons.

Also, it’s pretty typical that if you’re admitted to the hospital for psychiatric reasons, they usually lock up your clothes and make you wear a hospital gown and pants.

HOSPITAL GARB FASHION TIPS:  Hospital gowns usually tie at the back leaving your back and sometimes your butt/underwear exposed. Ask for two gowns instead of one, and that way you can put one on the normal way (ties in the back) and then put on another over the first one, and tie it up in the front. It may sound bulky, but the hospital tends to be cold so layers are actually great. There are hospital robe things but they’re sometimes hard to find. Hospital pants come one size fits all, so keep that waistband tied! Sometimes they give you these terrible little booties to put over your feet. If you have a kind security guard, orderly, or nurse, they’ll let you keep your socks on.

This may sound scary, I know. But consider it a rite of passage to wear hospital clothes. They are clean, you can change them every few hours if you want, and they’re super comfy. Same goes for blankets. There is a steady supply of warm blankets in the hospital, especially the ER. Blankets are your friend! If you’re cold, ask for more. One of last year’s hospital admissions left me looking like I was in a cocoon cause my room was so cold. Whatever! I planned on becoming a butterfly by discharge.

ANYWAY, packing tips! Here you go:

Things to Pack for Sure

– A toothbrush and tooth paste

– Flip-flops for the showers (so you don’t pick up any weird foot diseases)

– A hairbrush

– Any nighttime items you need like your retainer and its case, your glasses or contacts case, etc

– Deodorant/antiperspirant

– A few clean pairs of underwear and socks

– comfort objects like a stuffed animal, a photo of your pet (unframed cause glass stuff isn’t allowed), your favourite blanket

Those are things you’re going to need. These next items you may want to have with you, but the hospital staff will insist that they be locked up unless you’re using them.

Things You May Want to Pack (but be prepared to part with them)

– Shampoo and conditioner

– Face wash

– Hair elastics

– Body wash or soap and a puff

– Moisturizer (hospitals are so dry!)

– A box of Kleenex

ANOTHER PRO TIP FROM ERIN: Hospitals have toothbrushes, toothpaste, and combs if you forget them or aren’t in a state to pack your own stuff. They aren’t the best quality of items, but they’re there if you need them. Always bring your own tampons and pads if you might get your period soon. Just, trust me. Oh, and hospitals (mainly the ER) carry these little wipes for cleaning yourself off when you’re not up to showering. They’re like Wet Wipes but for your whole body. They aren’t great but they’re something to use if you’re feeling desperate and not wanting to shower with a guard behind the curtain.

Hospitals also have body wash, shampoo, and conditioner…all in one bottle. WEIRD/GROSS, yeah, but man, if you haven’t showered for a few days, that stuff is your best friend when you finally do hit the shower. And believe it or not, it makes your hair look great.

Hospitals also have boxes of Kleenex on steady demand, usually in each room. That said, they’re the size for like kittens or something. They are stupidly small, nonabsorbent, and kind of scratchy. Being in the hospital can be an emotional experience, so having your own box of Kleenex will keep you from scratching your face with that sandpaper kitten tissue crap.

Fun Stuff to Bring to Hospital

– Colouring books and crayons (seriously, folks, colouring the most calming thing in the world.)

– Magazines

– Books

– Anything else that you enjoy doing to pass the time. Crafts are great if you don’t need scissors.

– A journal and several pens (sometimes staff won’t want for you to have a pen, but if I don’t write in hospital I really start to lose my shit. That’s another reason to have crayons. They’re allowed when pens and pencils aren’t)

Keep really valuable stuff at home, for security reasons. Like that portable DVD player could get stolen, even with the hospital staff locking it up.

Like I said before, the longer you’re in hospital the more they let you keep your belongings out and get somewhat comfortable. For some of my admissions, I was allowed to have my stuff out right away. For others, it was days before I could spread out.

Never forget that you can ask to keep your belongings out. Communication is key in hospital. The more you assert yourself and advocate for your needs, the sooner they trust you to take care of yourself and not practice any self-harming behaviours. Also, you can ask for a compromise when hospital staff aren’t willing to let you have exactly what you are requesting. For example, once in the ER, the security guard watching me said I couldn’t have a pen. I NEEDED to write in my journal, so I said, “What if I sat in the doorway on this chair and that way you could see me one hundred percent? I can promise I won’t do anything to harm myself with this pen.” The security guard said he was cool with that! Win!

Click the “More” arrow below to see a picture of my hospital bed with my stuff on it.


Note crayons, stuffed animals, and an afghan from home. There’s my big yellow journal on the bed.


This is what my locker looked like after I moved my stuff out of it. You can see that it’s pretty big but the shelves aren’t very deep.

(Readers from LHSC, I confess to taking these photos on the psychiatric ward, when the rules are ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOS. But since there were no patients in the shot, I decided to break the rule. Please let me know if these photos present a problem and I’ll remove them!)

I hope this post helps to give you an idea of what you might need to pack for a trip to the hospital. Everyone is different, though, so definitely think about your needs first. The things that make me happy (books, my journal, stuffed animals, crayons) might not bring comfort to you during crisis. What activities are calm and relaxing to you? What makes you most feel at home?

It’s good to think about this stuff before you’re in a crisis, so that you’re prepared and slightly less stressed should you need to go to the hospital.

Check out my Help Page if you’re in crisis (overwhelmed and in fear of being hurt by yourself or someone else). Remember that I love you! So do many, many others, and reaching out for help is the best thing you can do to feel better!  ♥

ErinPacking for the Hospital

14 Comments on “Packing for the Hospital”

  1. Kinnery

    And be warned, sometimes they won’t let you have hardcover books, so softcover is great!

    This is an awesome list, Erin. It’s very practical and helpful. Thank you!

      1. Kinnery

        Yeah, on a past admission they took away my journal because it was hardcover, and only let me use pencil and the yellow hospital paper. I hate pencils and the colour yellow, so I guess it was a good challenge to my OCD tendencies… But when I’m in hospital is NOT when I need to be challenging those sorts of things! They let me have my journal as soon as I was transferred from the secure ward, though, so it wasn’t too bad :)

  2. Sue

    Great post Erin ,
    It is so nice of you to share this with us . The list of what to pack will help in time of crisis because during that time many of us space out and can’t focus on anything let alone what to pack ! The pictures really help too , some of us have never even seen a hospital room . This really helps to ease anxiety . Thanks again Erin ! Hugs ! Sue

  3. Deana

    Spectacular Erin!!! Love it!! The photos are so educational, I don’t see why they’d make you take them off. My fave line was this: “One of last year’s hospital admissions left me looking like I was in a cocoon cause my room was so cold. Whatever! I planned on becoming a butterfly by discharge.” So rad and amazing! <3 This is super helpful Erin, thanks!! <3 <3

  4. Huri

    A reminder that not everyone who needs tampons/pads and has periods is female, and visa versa.
    Thank you for this, though! I’m probably going to email this to my mom (my primary caretaker until I move out for college) in case something happens.

    1. daisiesandbruises

      Oh, good call, Huri. I’m fixing that gender stereotype error now. Also your comment reminds me that if you can always send things you aren’t allowed to have home with your parent, spouse, caregiver, friend etc. Thank you!

  5. Jan

    A great. Post to put in individual care plan to help anyone helping you. Very informative great job Erin ! A comforting pillow might help too might even be good to have a bag packed with some things so you can grab it and go. LIke your site. Jan

  6. a.m.

    I think this post goes a long way towards demystifying the hospital experience in general, and in a way that flatters the hospital without sugarcoating anything. LHSC would be wise to promote this post because it actually establishes a really positive image for their psych ward (both in terms of how it looks/feels physically vis-a-vis the images, but also the stuff you’ve written about the staff is very comforting).

  7. Anonymous

    What a great post. Really useful information and takes away some of the unknown for those going to hospital for the first time. xxx

  8. Illona

    Great info :). A friend was recently admitted and this is my first experience with her. She was transferred to another town with just the clothes she had on and lost her shoes in transit. They wouldn’t even escort her to the hospital ATM to get money out to buy little luxuries at the hospital kiosk. So I would add also to have packed a small amount of money. Maybe a few dollars in a coin purse tucked away in the toiletries bag.

    Love the idea about the drawing and crayons – I know what I am going to send her to help her pass the time.

  9. Lauryn Romero

    I have been just looking around for hospitals to go to and i was wondering if u knew of any that i could go to? I really enjoyed your list of things to bring and it made me feel better about getting help.

  10. Jess

    A tip: don’t bring aerosal containers – deodorant, body spray etc. Many psych wards don’t allow them as inhaling them is a way to get high.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *