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Hospitalization is also an important medical treatment. Today, hospitalization is typically only used in emergencies. A psychiatric emergency is typically defined by the level of dangerousness involved. For instance, it is considered an emergency if the patient is dangerous to himself (is not taking care of himself in basic ways or is suicidal) or others (is aggressive or threatening). Most hospital admissions are brief-from a few days to a few weeks-and typically involve stabilizing the patient on medications and arranging outpatient treatment. Occasionally, longer hospitalizations are indicated, and are more likely to occur in the state hospitals.

Hospitalization can be helpful in terms of diagnosing the disorder. When a person is in the hospital, medical staff can observe behaviors first hand and gather history and information from the individual, and his or her family. Sometimes just being in the hospital is helpful-the routine is structured and the environment is safe.

Unfortunately, sometimes people with severe mental illness are hospitalized against their will. These situations can be traumatic for everyone involved. State laws allow involuntary hospitalization in specific situations. (See section on legal information.)