When teens are experiencing a mental health crisis, outpatient treatment may not be enough. Therefore, a teen mental hospital might be the right place for them to find help.
Families are sometimes troubled by the idea of a teenage psychiatric hospital. However, old stereotypes of teen mental hospitals no longer apply. Today, the optimal inpatient treatment for teens provides compassionate care and a variety of evidence-based therapeutic modalities.
Most important, teens require specialized care in a hospital facility designed to provide adolescent treatment. Adult treatment approaches are not appropriate for teens.
More Teens Than Ever Are Receiving Treatment at Psychiatric Hospitals
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five teens will experience a severe mental disorder. As a result, more young people are seeking treatment in teen mental hospitals.
In fact, recent research found that the number of children and teens admitted to a psychiatric hospital for suicidal thoughts or self-harm has doubled over the past decade. The study included data from 32 children’s hospitals across the United States.
When Is a Teen Mental Hospital Necessary?
Most often, teens are admitted to an adolescent mental hospital while in the acute phase of a mental health disorder. One study found that depression, bipolar disorder, and psychosis are the most common conditions associated with mental health hospitalizations.
Furthermore, a teenager may be admitted to a teen mental hospital or juvenile psychiatric ward for any of the following reasons:
- A suicide attempt
- Threatening someone with a weapon or otherwise becoming violent
- Uncontrollable anger
- Manic episodes
- Escalation of a life-threatening eating disorder, such as anorexia.
Hence, teens in crisis need continuous support in a safe, structured environment. Consequently, a teen psychiatric hospital or the adolescent psychiatric unit of a hospital provides supervision and expertise. Therefore, such facilities can help young people weather a mental health crisis.
The Admission and Treatment Process
When a teen arrives at a youth mental health hospital, healthcare professionals take the adolescent and family through the following steps.
1. Evaluation/Intake: In order to complete a comprehensive intake, an assessment team interviews the teen, speaks with family members, and takes a full mental health history of the client. This includes the teen’s physical or mental health issues and/or substance abuse in the past. In addition, an evaluation includes questions about any family history of mental illness. Moreover, mental healthcare experts at the hospital may speak with teachers and administrators at the teen’s school.
2. Development of a Treatment Plan: After the intake process is complete, a treatment team develops a plan for the client. Team members may include
- Family and individual therapists
- Social workers
- MDs and nurses
- Experiential therapists.
3. Short-Term Treatment: Most often, inpatient treatment in a teen mental hospital takes place during an overnight stay or over several days. Below, we’ll look more closely at the kinds of treatment approaches used in adolescent psychiatric hospitals.
4. Discharge Planning: Once a teen is stabilized, the treatment team will work with the family to create a discharge plan. This plan includes recommendations for the teenager’s mental health treatment over the following days and months. Discharge from a teen mental hospital does not mean the teen is “cured.” Rather, they will continue the healing process in a different environment.
Treatment Approaches in a Teen Mental Hospital
Psychiatric hospitals treat mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, using clinical and experiential modalities. Doctors or psychiatrists may also prescribe medication for teens.
Some hospitals provide substance abuse treatment and counseling, also known as rehab for teenagers. In addition, a teen mental hospital might have a specialized unit for eating disorders.
While in the hospital, teens participate in numerous structured activities each day. These may include the following:
- Psychological testing
- Individual therapy
- Group therapy with other teens in the mental hospital
- Academic programs so teenagers can stay at grade level
- Experiential therapies, such as art therapy
- Family therapy and multi-family group therapy.
The Difference Between Residential Treatment and a Teen Mental Hospital
Residential treatment and hospital stays are both in the category of inpatient treatment. However, there are several important differences between the two types of treatment.
Length of Stay: In general, 30 days is the maximum time for inpatient treatment at an adolescent mental hospital. However, residential treatment may last for 90 days or longer. In fact, research shows that longer stays in residential treatment are more effective for sustainable recovery.
Setting: Teen mental hospitals are often comfortably appointed and have rooms designated for therapy, experiential modalities, and socializing. But residential teenage mental health facilities are warm, home-like settings that may have their own art and dance studios, gardens, gyms, cozy living areas, music rooms, and spaces for yoga and meditation.
Variety of Treatment Modalities: A teen mental hospital may offer a wide range of modalities. However, residential treatment centers are often able to provide even greater variety. For example, residential centers may offer horticulture therapy, Equine Assisted Therapy with on-site horses, and Adventure Therapy in outdoor settings.
Follow-Up: After being discharged from a teen psychiatric hospital, clients go on to a Partial Hospitalization Program, Intensive Outpatient Program, or another form of outpatient treatment. This is also true after residential treatment. But after leaving residential treatment, adolescents stay in touch with staff and peers. Most treatment centers have a strong alumni network and organize alumni get-togethers. Not all teen mental hospitals provide this type of continuing support.
“Our alumni events maintain the bonds clients create in treatment. Therefore, they remind us all of the value of authentic connections and of tending to and honoring one’s highest self.”
—Caydin Sanders, Director of Referral Relations at Newport Academy
What Happens After a Stay in a Teen Mental Hospital
Following discharge from a teenage mental hospital, teens move to a different level of mental health treatment. This might include one or more of the following options.
Research shows that residential programs are an effective approach to treatment of depression in adolescence. In addition, residential treatment successfully addresses teen anxiety, substance abuse, and eating disorders. Furthermore, experts recommend 90 days of residential treatment for successful outcomes.
Partial Hospitalization Programs:
Teens in a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) live at home and receive treatment in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Hence, they are in treatment for six or more hours a day, every day or most days of the week.
Intensive Outpatient Programs:
Teen Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs) are similar to PHPs. But clients attend for fewer hours—three to four hours a day, several days a week.
After being discharged from a teen mental hospital, teens may work with a private mental health clinician. Regular individual sessions help adolescents to firmly establish new, healthy behaviors. Furthermore, family therapy sessions support families to build on new ways of connecting and communicating.
Therapeutic Day Schools:
Day Schools provide therapeutic environments to support teens’ physical, emotional, behavioral, and academic development. Hence, teens gain high school diplomas or college credit while setting attainable goals for the future.
In addition, Day Schools require teens to commit to abstaining from alcohol or drug use.
Parent support groups and teen support groups offer encouragement and the wisdom of peers. Some community mental health centers and other community centers offer ongoing support groups.
In summary, teen mental hospitals provide care during times of acute distress. But treatment in a teen psychiatric hospital is most often short term.
Finally, the goal of teen treatment at a youth mental hospital is to stabilize a teen in crisis. Once this is accomplished, families work with hospital clinicians to develop a long-term plan to ensure that the adolescent continues to recover and heal.
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Pediatric Academic Societies
National Alliance on Mental Illness