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Mental Health Treatment (Inpatient) for Children and Teens

What is inpatient treatment?

Inpatient treatment is 24-hour care by mental health professionals and healthcare providers in a psychiatric hospital or residential treatment program. Your child stays in a secure (locked) facility. Hospitals generally have separate units for children (preschool to about age 12) and teens (12 to 18). Both units are generally separate from mentally ill adults.

When is it used?

Your child may need inpatient treatment if he is a danger to himself or to others, or if other kinds of treatment are not available or would not work well for your child.

Inpatient psychiatric treatment may be voluntary if the parent or guardian agrees. It may also be ordered by the court if a mental health professional certifies that your child needs treatment.

How do I prepare for inpatient treatment?

Your healthcare provider or mental health professional will talk about your child’s choices for treatment and explain the program and any risks. You should understand what the treatment involves and how long it will take your child to recover.

Start by researching several facilities close to friends and family. Call each program you are considering. Ask about waiting lists and admission requirements. Then visit each facility. Ask questions such as:

  • What does the program include?
  • Is this treatment program specifically for children and teens?
  • What are the credentials and experience of the members of the treatment team?
  • How will my child be able to keep up with schoolwork?
  • How long will my child be in the hospital? How will you decide when treatment is complete?
  • Does my child have other mental health or substance abuse problems? If so, will these also be treated?
  • How often will my child see an individual therapist?
  • What will treatment cost? Are the costs covered by my insurance or health plan?
  • What happens if I can't afford the treatment my child needs?
  • What can family members do to make my child's treatment successful?
  • What types of ongoing treatment will be needed, how often, and for how long?

What happens during treatment?

Inpatient treatment may include several kinds of therapy.

  • Family therapy is often very helpful. Family therapy treats all members of the family rather than working with one person alone. It helps the whole family to make changes.
  • Group therapy can help your child deal with work, relationships, and taking medicine. It takes place in a group of 6 to 10 people, under the guidance of a therapist.
  • Supportive therapy gives encouragement ("you can do it"), positive feedback ("you are good enough"), and reassurance ("you can handle it").
  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is a way to help your child identify and change views he has of himself, the world, and the future. CBT can make your child aware of unhealthy ways of thinking. It can also help him learn new ways to think and act.
  • Medicines may be prescribed to help teens who are depressed or anxious. Some medicines decrease the cravings for alcohol or drugs, and some make your child sick when he drinks or takes drugs. This may reduce the chances that your teen will abuse drugs or alcohol in the future.

How long your child will be in treatment depends on the severity of your child's behaviors and symptoms and how they respond to treatment. Your child may be in the hospital for only a few days or may need to stay longer.

What can I do to help my child?

  • Support your child. Encourage children to talk about whatever they want to talk about. Be a good listener. This helps children begin to realize that their feelings and thoughts really do matter, that you truly care about them, and that you never stopped caring. If your child shuts you out, don't walk away. Let children know that you are there for them whenever they need you. Remind children of this over and over again. They may need to hear it a lot because they feel unworthy of love and attention.
  • After your child completes inpatient treatment, you may want to enroll your child in a special program (such as day treatment) where he receives therapy as well as education. Stay in touch with teachers, therapists, and other people who care for your child to share information about symptoms your child may be having.
  • Be consistent. Understand that you are not responsible for your child's problems, even if something such as a divorce may have triggered it. Be firm and consistent with rules and consequences. Your child needs to know that the rules still apply to them. It does not help to teach children that they can avoid consequences if they’re depressed or if they act out.
  • Help your child learn to manage stress. Teach children and teens to practice deep breathing or other relaxation techniques when feeling stressed. Help your child find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, take walks.
  • Take care of your child’s physical health. Make sure your child eats a healthy diet and gets enough sleep and exercise every day. Teach children and teens to avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and drugs.
  • Check your child’s medicines. Tell all healthcare providers who treat your child about all medicines the child takes to make sure there is no conflict with medicines for mental health treatment. Make sure your child takes his or her medicines every day, even if feeling well. Stopping medicines when he or she feels well may start the problems again.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your child’s symptoms seem to be getting worse.
  • Ask children or teens if they are feeling suicidal or have done anything to hurt themselves. Get emergency care if your child or teen has ideas of suicide or harming others or harming him- or herself.

Family patterns often need to change. You may be asked to:

  • Go to family therapy or take parenting classes.
  • Learn all you can. Read, join support groups, and network with others who are dealing with similar mental health problems so that you do not feel alone.

For more information, contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2014.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-02-13
Last reviewed: 2013-09-11
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©2014 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.
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