Psychiatric hospitals, also known as mental hospitals, mental health units, mental asylums or simply asylums, are hospitals or wards specializing in the treatment of serious mental disorders, such as clinical depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder. Psychiatric hospitals vary widely in their size and grading. Some hospitals may specialize only in short-term or outpatient therapy for low-risk patients.
Others may specialize in the temporary or permanent care of residents who, as a result of a psychological disorder, require routine assistance, treatment, or a specialized and controlled environment. Patients are often admitted on a voluntary basis, but people whom psychiatrists believe may pose a significant danger to themselves or others may be subject to involuntary commitment. Psychiatric hospitals may also be referred to as psychiatric wards (or “psych” wards) when they are a subunit of a regular hospital.
Modern psychiatric hospitals evolved from, and eventually replaced the older lunatic asylums. The treatment of inmates in early lunatic asylums was sometimes brutal and focused on containment and restraint. With successive waves of reform, and the introduction of effective evidence-based treatments, most modern psychiatric hospitals provide a primary emphasis on treatment, and attempt where possible to help patients control their own lives in the outside world, with the use of a combination of psychiatric drugs and psychotherapy. An exception is in Japan, where many psychiatric hospitals still use physical restraints on patients, tying them to their beds for days or even months at a time.