• Karen Welch, LMHC

My child is in a psychiatric hospital...

You may have just spent many hours in the ER waiting for an opening in a psychiatric hospital for your child. I'm sure you are exhausted and wonder if you did the right thing. If this is your first go-around you may be wondering what to expect. Beyond online reviews, here are some things that you can expect. All child psychiatric hospitals are a bit different but there are some commonalities. A hospital stay is usually 1-2 weeks depending on the severity of your child's mental health symptoms. It can be longer if the symptoms become worse or they are at high safety risk if they are discharged. If their symptoms can be addressed through a lower level of care the team will make recommendations for services such as outpatient therapy, day treatment programs, CBAT (Community Based Acute Treatment). The case manager will be in regular contact the insurance reviewers to discuss the length of stay. The time will be extended if it is deemed medically necessary. At that point, it will be reviewed every so many days.

You can expect to be able to visit during visiting hours which are usually in the evening and the weekends. They will usually let you bring in treats or games to play. Your child will be assigned to a therapist through the duration of the service. You will likely have a least a few meetings with the therapist and the psychiatrist depending on how long your child is there.

The therapist will want to know if there are other providers working with your child. They will most likely collaborate with them and get more diagnostic information. They might be invited to attend a hospital meeting to discuss next steps.

Your child will have several groups during the day which will cover various topics such as coping skills, meditation, emotional regulation, art therapy, journaling, self-care, etc. Your child will meet with a therapist throughout their stay. Some parents worry if their child will be influenced by other kids that are "worse off " then them and pick up some bad habits. This is a reality that they will learn things that they would not of known before they were hospitalized.

There will be a discharge meeting the day your child leaves the hospital. These meeting can be brief or they can be more entailed if other providers are invited to the meeting. You will get a discharge summary which may be ready when your child leaves or it could be mailed to you. It's a good idea to ask about this before you leave. This is an important record to have as you interact with new providers, schools, and applying for increased services for your child. i.e. Dept. of Mental Health (DMH) application, therapeutic schools, etc.

Don't expect your child to be fully mentally healthy when they leave the hospital. The hospital provides acute stabilization based on presenting symptoms. The more intensive work will be done on a longer-term basis through other services in the area such as an outpatient therapist or a day treatment program.

As a parent you will go through varying emotions as your child is in the hospital. You will be grateful that they are safe and getting help and you may also wonder how did we get to this point? You might have feelings of guilt, self-blame, or sadness as you go through all of the emotions that this can bring up. Be kind to yourself during this time. Reach out and get support from people you love and trust.

This is based on my experience working with hospitals in Ma.