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Posted on 12/27/2022

Psychiatric hospitalization for children and adolescents

Psychiatric hospitalization for children and adolescents

Children and teens with mental health issues may experience a significant emotional event that requires more intensive treatment than outpatient counseling to ensure their safety. Psychiatric mental health hospitals give kids, teens, and their families the support they need to keep kids safe and feel better while the youth’s mental health needs are being addressed in a 24-7 professional setting.


Care provided by a mental health hospital, also known as a psychiatric hospital,provides treatment for children and adolescents facing emotional, behavioral, and psychiatric issues. The hospital facility generally provides therapy treatment sessions in individual, family, and group settings.


Types of psychiatric hospitalization treatment programs

There are three main treatment programs for children and adolescents at the mental health hospital or psychiatric hospital. These treatment options include:

  1. Inpatient Psychiatric Treatment (IP): This treatment program is the highest level (intensive) of psychiatric treatment within a hospital or treating facility. Within this treatment facility, a system of 24-hour care and support is afforded to juvenile patients.  This treatment program is considered the best option for children or adolescents who are faced with chronic mental health challenges and need constant monitoring to protect them from causing harm to themselves or others.
  2. Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP):  This treatment program is what is considered day-treatment and provides structured programs for the patient daily.  However, they return to their home each night.  This type of programming offers patients the opportunity to receive many hours of individual and group therapy, while incorporating their academics, and is usually considered a “step down” from inpatient psychiatric care.
  3. Intensive Outpatient (IOP): This treatment program provides treatment for children and teens who are experiencing mental health needs that can be managed without 24-hour inpatient care or daily treatment at the hospital, but who require more treatment hours than weekly community-based therapy sessions. Intensive outpatient programs assist patients in carrying out their normal functions during the day while helping them make changes based on treatment goals and provide support and accountability for those changes.


How to admit your child to a psychiatric hospital

Your child's admission into a psychiatric hospital can be involuntary (not of free will) or voluntary (free will). In many states, a child or adolescent can be legally and involuntarily committed, or what is known as a psychiatric hold, for up to 72 hours if their psychiatric condition poses an immediate threat to their life or the lives of others. This will likely require legal and court intervention.


Although admitting your child to a psychiatric hospital may be necessary for their safety or others, it can be an emotional experience for you and your child. When possible, call a trusted friend or family member to be with you and your child for support.  


The admission process of your child or adolescent typically starts with a phone call from the parent or guardian to the hospital intake department. Sometimes the process may begin with a referral from a professional in the child’s life, such as a therapist, psychiatrist, social worker, school counselor, or pediatrician who has become concerned about your child’s mental state.


How to know your child might need inpatient treatment

Your child or adolescent may exhibit certain behaviors indicating they need inpatient treatment. When in doubt ask your therapist, call the intake department of the hospital, or in more serious and immediate circumstances, call 911.For a child or adolescent to meet the criteria for psychiatric hospitalization, they are usually required to show signs of:

  • Being a threat to themselves or others, and/or
  • Unable to provide basic needs for themselves, and/or
  • In great danger to their mental health or physical safety if they don't receive 24-7 professional mental health attention.  

It is necessary to seek immediate professional attention for your child if your child shows signs of hurting themselves or someone else. Other families may also seek placement after a mental health professional recommends placement after the family has tried other interventions, such as psychiatry, therapy, and outpatient treatment programs, but are not seeing any improvement in behavior or mood. 


If your child is in therapy, you may be able to consult with the therapist, and they can often recommend a hospital and/or help facilitate placement. But many therapists do not provide crisis intervention so you may need to navigate this process with the support of the intake department at the hospital.  


You will need to ensure line-of-sight supervision while you make arrangements for your child’s admission.  Remove any access to potential means of harm, such as medications, tools, knives, and weapons. You may also be at the hospital for several hours for the admission process, so you’ll need to find someone to take care of any other children in the home while you can focus on this child. 


It is important that you immediately call 911 for acts or behavior by your child/teen portraying attempted or threatening suicide, self-harm, or medication overdose. It is also essential to take your child to the emergency room if the child shows signs of extreme hurt or threatens to hurt others. If in doubt, call 911.  The first responders are trained in being able to evaluate what constitutes an emergency and can guide you on the proper next steps. 


What Inpatient hospitalization will be like for your child 

With inpatient treatment, your child can expect a setting that is safe, caring, and supportive. There will be doctors present to assist your child with mental health disorders and provide the requisite medication or detox their body needs to become stabilized. A level of holistic therapy may also be provided to improve their quality of life. 


As your child adjusts to the environment, they can expect a daily schedule, customized treatment, and the encouragement of incorporating healthy lifestyle habits, all in a structured manner. 


Can I take my child out of a psychiatric hospital?

As a parent, once your child is admitted to a psychiatric hospital, it is not in your power to remove them at your will. The child is only allowed to leave the facility when pronounced fit by the mental health officials. This pronouncement is often based on them being stable, and a determination by qualified staff that they are no longer seen as a risk to themselves or others. 


What age can kids go to a mental hospital?

Psychiatric hospitals will have age requirements, so ask them if your child’s age is appropriate for their services. Some hospitals accept children as young as age three. Not all psychiatric hospitals have child or adolescent programs.


How to find the right psychiatric hospital for your child

When selecting the best psychiatric hospital for your child, consider these issues:

  1. Does the hospital treat your child’s age?
  2. Does the hospital treat your child’s specific concerns (adoption, eating disorders, addictions, etc.)
  3. Does the hospital accept your behavioral health insurance for your child?
  4. Does the hospital have any licensing violations? (You can check your state’s licensing website).
  5. Is the staff welcoming, kind, and respectful?
  6. Does there appear to be appropriate supervision and structure as you notice the environment while you are waiting?
  7. Does the staff explain step-by-step what to expect to both you and your child?  


What to expect

Take your child’s healthcare cards, medications, and written dietary guidelines to the intake.  Pack essential items that are in accordance with the rules of the hospital, such as comfortable clothes and slip-on shoes. As a parent, you will be advised of the rules and possible treatment your child will undergo while in the hospital, when you can visit, the structured recreational activities that will be provided, and the family's role in the treatment process. 


How to prepare child for psychiatric hospital

When possible, explain to your child your concerns and that you have decided that you both need some help to keep them safe.  The intake staff can also guide you in how to prepare your child based on your circumstances. Assure your child that you are not leaving them forever and that you will be checking on them, that they will be safe, and you will connect with them soon.


Final Thoughts

Having your child admitted to a mental health or psychiatric hospital is never easy.  It can be an emotional experience for both you and your child.  However, your child's mental health and safety is of paramount importance, and putting it first is critical to secure their present and future quality of life. Many parents find that engaging in their own therapy is helpful as they navigate this experience.

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