People think of the psychiatric ward of the hospital as a terrible place. They think of it as a prison, a place only the worst people go. Behind locked doors and with no shoelaces, the crazies roam.

But that’s so far from what the hospital is.

The hospital is where you go, always, immediately, if you are a danger to yourself or others. It is not scary; it will not be dangerous. You will have visiting hours. You will be able to make phone calls. Most psych wards provide frequent cigarette breaks and a choice of all the popular brands. But above all, you get help.

You get immediate access to a psychiatrist every day, a therapist (both individual and group), and you meet people, who like you, are struggling. You make friendships in the hospital and in the IOP programs that are real and true. They know you; they know where you have been because they have been there with you.

It’s a scary decision to take a loved one to the hospital, especially when they are begging you not to take them, and you feel this overwhelming guilt if you were to take them. It’s overwhelming and it’s emotional. It is the most intense of crises. You struggle because you don’t want to betray your loved one, but you know how much help they need and you are scared for their life.

This is the time to turn it over to the mental health professionals. Take your loved one to the ER. Always. Your loved one needs help only the hospital and trained mental health professionals can provide.

It will be the toughest thing you have ever done in your life. It will break your heart, especially if it is your child. But to save their life, you must put them in the hospital.

I’ve been there. I’ve had family members there. And it is not anything like what the media and horror stories say it is.

In fact, it’s comforting. There’s routine. There’s stability. There’s 24/7 support.

When I was suicidal, I thought I wanted to die. I believed it to my core. I wrote letters; I made suicidal gestures. I begged my mom not to take me to the hospital. And even though my grandmother, a trained and seasoned therapist, was telling my mom to put me in the hospital, she didn’t.

And when I finally overdosed, it was like something flipped. She leapt into action, took me to the emergency room. She demanded I go to IOP programs for at least three weeks or she was kicking me out of the house. I cried and told her I would be homeless. She did not budge.

So I went. Every day, for almost a month, I would drive the 160 mile round-trip drive for four hours of group.

My hospitalizations saved my life. I stabilized. I went back to school. I received two degrees, including a Master’s of Arts in Psychology. I was going to be a therapist to help people, to let them know that I’ve walked in their shoes, that I knew what it was like and that it would get better.

But in order for it to get better, there has to be, especially for severe and persistent mental illness, a strict regimen of psychotherapy and medication.

And it requires, as much of a betrayal as it feels like, a trip to the emergency room when you or your loved one is a danger to themselves or others.

My mom told me something when I was what she called “profoundly depressed.” (I hate that phrase.)

It is not a normal human emotion to want to die.

It wasn’t until after I came out of my suicide attempt, after I began to stabilize, that I began to see how right she was. The basic human instinct is to live. Fight or Flight.

When your loved one is telling you that they want to kill themselves, they are reaching out to you. By sharing their pain with you, they are asking for your help.

And the only way to help them is to take them to the hospital.