Should You Take Your Teen to the Mental Health Hospital? How to Proceed If You’re Not Sure What to Do

If you have a teen struggling with mental health or addiction issues, it’s hard to know what to do at every given moment. You love your child, of course, and want the best for them. But when do you intervene, and when do you let things play out? When do you seek treatment, and when do you just wait?

While every situation is complex, there are three mental health emergencies in which everyone agrees you can’t ignore. If your child is undergoing any one of the following, you MUST take them to a mental health hospital immediately. If you don’t have a psychiatric hospital near you, go to your nearest emergency room or mental health urgent care facility.

  1. Your child has become a danger to himself/herself.
    For example, if your teen is considering suicide, you must call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency room. When it comes to suicidal ideation, it’s better to be safe than sorry—even if you’re not sure how serious they are about killing themselves.
  2. Your child has become a danger to others
    If your teen is brandishing a knife and threatening to use it, or is even just talking about his imminent plan to physically kill or attack someone, it may be time to call 911.
  3. Your child has become gravely disabled due to their mental condition
    For example, if your teen is undergoing an episode of psychosis, it’s time to go.

What happens at the mental health hospital?

Once you arrive at the psychiatric hospital, a qualified mental health professional will assess your teen. If the clinician determines that your adolescent can be admitted, your child will be placed on a temporary psychiatric hold in the behavioral unit of the hospital. In California, this is a 5585/5150 Involuntary Detention Hold. Even if your adolescent is screaming, crying and refusing to stay, they may not leave the hospital until they’ve been cleared for discharge. (However, don’t be deterred by the term involuntary. One can admit voluntarily to a psychiatric unit as well. If minors come on their own, their caregivers will be notified within 24 hours.) Your teen’s personal belongings may be taken away from them, for safety reasons.

Then, your teen will receive inpatient care, with 24/7 support and supervision, for about 72 hours. Of course, if the doctor feels that your teen is safe to leave earlier, they will lift the involuntary hold. However, this is not so common. What happens more often is that the doctor extends the hold. If the doctor determines that your adolescent needs continued stabilization, your teen may remain for an additional 1-2 weeks. (However, this may be subject to legal review). During this stabilization period, your teen will be assessed for medical, psychiatric, transition, and support needs.

Discharging from the mental health hospital

Once your adolescent is cleared for discharge from the hospital, it’s not over. Hospital staff will provide you with recommendations for next steps. For example, in some cases, you may need to go straight from the hospital to a residential treatment center, which is one step down from inpatient hospitalization but still provides 24/7 supervision and care.

There are many different kinds of residential teen treatment centers (RTC) or drug rehab centers, The teen treatment center can be a locked or unlocked facility; short term or long-term. Contrary to a psychiatric hospital, at a residential treatment center teens live in a home-like setting that’s usually fairly comfortable. However, just like a mental health hospital, an RTC provides 24/7 support and supervisors. Licensed therapists and clinicians, psychiatrists, residential counselors, and medical support staff will be treating your adolescent. To learn more about what to look for in a residential treatment center, read our article here.

If the doctor determines that your adolescent doesn’t need full-time, round-the-clock care, they may recommend a local partial hospitalization (PHP) or intensive outpatient (IOP) program, which offers day or evening treatment programs for teens who can safely live at home. Like residential programs, these outpatient teen rehab programs usually provide evidence-based treatment like individual therapy, 1:1 therapy, family therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and some experiential therapies. Insurance covers most RTCs, PHPs, and IOPs.