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When Your Teen is Admitted to a Psychiatric Hospital

It took four hours to admit my 15-year-old son, Bob, to the psychiatric hospital for suicidal ideation. It had been a long stressful day since Bob told his therapist he almost killed himself the night before. She had made Bob sign a safety contract then released him to me. I tried to keep him busy and distracted, but by late afternoon he could fight no more. Bob asked me to take him to the hospital.

The admission process was painfully slow. Several people asked Bob the same, endless questions. Each time Bob answered them my heart clenched.

Finally, they gave him a gown and took him away.

Admitted your teen to the psychiatric hospital can be scary. This parent of a suicidal teen shares her story of her child in the psychiatric hospital.

My husband, Bill, and I returned to the hospital with some of Bob’s belongings. It was 10:00 p.m. and I felt a small sense of relief. My son was alive and safe for now.

“Why are you crying?” I asked Bill. It had been a horrifying and hectic day, but sadness was not what I was feeling.

“I didn’t realize how sick he is.”

I did. Bob had showed signs of depression in second grade. He tried antidepressant medication in sixth grade, then was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At the beginning of ninth grade, I brought Bob to this exact hospital because he became violent, but he was not admitted.

Everything had been leading up to this moment. While my spouse had always been supportive, it took this hospitalization for him to fully understand. Our son has a serious mental illness and it was not going away.

Mental Hospitals Provide Safety and Structure for Patients

The next week was a blur. We were allowed to speak to our son on the phone for 10 minutes, twice a day. We could visit for two hours each evening.

Visiting our son felt like visiting a high security prison:

  • Only immediate family members were allowed.
  • No more than two visitors at a time were permitted.
  • All visitors were searched.
  • No outside food, unless earned was allowed.
  • No candy or treats were permitted.
  • No contraband (straws, staples, drawstrings) were allowed.

Each night we sat with Bob in a large, barren room. He was inattentive and sometimes hostile, mostly towards me. It was excruciating to sit with him.

Hospital Staff Guide Parents of Mentally Ill Children

We met with Dr. Clark mid-week. She blasted information, directions and statistics at us. She explained Bob would be at high risk for suicide after his release from the hospital. Therefore, she ordered eyes-on-supervision 24/7 for 30 days. There would be no electronics and no contact with Bob’s girlfriend. She described suicide contagion. She told us 80% of marriages fail after a child’s suicide.

As we left the meeting, we saw Bob exercising with a group in the visitation room. He looked like a zombie as he swayed back and forth, arms outstretched, eyes vacant.

My next door neighbor came over to help me make the house safe, a job I couldn’t do alone. We started with the obvious harmful objects. Soon I became crazed suggesting every household item could be dangerous. My friend talked me down, but it wasn’t easy.

Admitted your teen to the psychiatric hospital can be scary. This parent of a suicidal teen shares her story of her child in the psychiatric hospital.

Another friend came by over the weekend to help redecorate Bob’s room. She skillfully displayed Bob’s memorabilia on the walls. I arranged the many cards and gifts that arrived.

Bob was released after eight days inpatient. When we got to the house, he saw the balloons on the mailbox. We stopped to take pictures with his little sister. When he saw his room and all his personal items on display, he cried. Though the battle wasn’t over, my son was home.

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92 thoughts on “When Your Teen is Admitted to a Psychiatric Hospital”

  1. Hello i am a single mother of 11 year old twin girls one has adhd and other behavioural issues the other has an eatting disorder and tried 2 times to commit suicide aslo has odd as a result i cant leave them home after scholl while i work nor can i get childcare . i have just lost my job soon my housing does anyone know of any programs that can help me financially to keep housing and live while i am home suppourting my kids through this i live in california and cant go on the streeets with them we r in need of immidiate help

    1. That’s a lot to go through, Sarah. I’m sorry to hear that. It may help to call your local county human services department. They may be able to help you with the financial, housing, and basic resources you could use at this time. Also try United Way 211 (https://www.unitedwaysca.org/our-work/2-1-1-resources).

      Meanwhile, if you need your own mental health support through this, or you’re concerned one of your children may try again to end her life, here are some hotline resources, too: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/resources/mental-health-hotline-numbers-and-referral-resources/

  2. Dear RSmith,

    I am so sorry that you are in such pain. You ask the $64,000 question: how do we know? Isn’t that it? How do we know if we’re doing the right thing? How do we know if this is the right treatment? You can second guess yourself until you go crazy.

    I think the answer is to trust ourselves. To trust that gut feeling. And, to trust the support system that we build around our children. That’s what you’re doing right now. Then the good news is that you don’t have to answer those questions alone.

    Before they admit your daughter, they will do an intake consultation. Tell them your fears. My girls have each been admitted to psychiatric hospitals a number of times. (And when that happens, you know your child is safe and getting the help she needs.) And, sometimes, they haven’t. One time I was unsure if my daughter was so ill that she needed to be admitted, but her suicidal thoughts made me error on the side of caution. Yet, when we got to the hospital, she was better. We all talked about how best to treat her and decided not to admit her. Instead, we had her sign a safety contract (or, a written promise that she would not harm herself and what help she would take if she felt like it.) We made an appointment with her psychiatrist for the next day, she called her therapist and we put her into an Intensive Out-Patient program so she could learn coping skills. My point is you don’t have to do this all alone. There is a team of professionals who can help you make the decision that feels right.

    But, while your daughter is getting the help she needs, who is taking care of you? You need support too, Mama. Whether it is through friends, or a therapist, or NAMI meetings (see the Resources section on HealthyPlace.com for references) or hotlines, make sure you take care of yourself. You’re right. You are the glue. And, clearly, every member of your family needs you.

    Take care of yourself over these next few days, and I send my best wishes to you and all your family that things will get better.

    1. Is

      I am here trying to keep my own head together my baby my youngest child was hospitalized on Monday night .
      Part of me wants her home with me so I can protect her against the world .
      Part of feels afraid that she will try to harm her self again .
      I don’t really have support that we need my other daughter’s have their own lives and my fiance well he is judgemental.
      I am lost I hate to see her in that place where is cold and her face expressions worry me .

      1. Dear Rocio,

        I’m so sorry you are struggling so. I do understand your pain. When I drove away from hospitalizing my daughter, I felt like someone had just cut off my right arm. The loss and pain were palpable. As parents, our gut reaction is to take our child and pull her close and love the problem away. But, I can hear that the other part of you knows that your daughter needs to be in a place where people are trained to protect her and support her as she tries to get well. No one wants to put their baby in an institutional setting, but sometimes that sacrifice on our part is necessary to help our babies. That said, your child is not the only one suffering. In its own way, this is just as hard on you and you, too, need support and help to get well from the trauma you’ve suffered alongside your daughter. Unfortunately, very often our family and friends cannot be the ones to help. They don’t understand what’s going on, or have their own issues that get in the way of supporting you. It’s not uncommon. Instead, call your local NAMI chapter (National Alliance of Mental Illness). They have support groups and parenting classes all geared to families facing mental illness. If you can afford it, find a therapist for yourself. There were times that I swear my therapist saved my life as I struggled with the pain of my daughter’s hospitalizations. Not only did he get me through our separation, but he also prepared me to deal with my daughter when she returned home and that was very valuable to me. Finally, try to find an online support group or contact or two at a NAMI meeting. Talking to people in your same place can really help ease your pain while your daughter is hospitalized and when she comes home. You did the right thing, Rocio. Your daughter is safe. She won’t like being in the hospital, but it will help begin to give her the tools she needs to deal with her situation. Like surgery, or chemo, or any other painful treatment needed to make sick people well, remind yourself that this is a major step to mental health and finding a way to cope with your child’s illness. You will be in my thoughts.

  3. Hello, I am currently breaking down as typing this…my 15 year old daughter has been diagnosed with depression )her biological father committed suicide and her adoptive father was blown up in a chemical plant explosion, although and by the grace of God he survived our world was turned upside down.) My daughter started getting into trouble only to come out and say she was depressed, she mentioned last night and again today thoughts of cutting herself but that she didn’t want to do it. Her psychiatrist says it’s pretty much up to us whether to admit or not; at first he thought she was trying to guilt and manipulate me when she got in trouble but he became more concerned that my fear of losing her or her hurting herself is going f to send me into a nervous breakdown; I can barely function now due to the paralyzingly anxiety and fear so he suggested it may be best to admit her in the morning. She is begging not to go (last night she actually agreed to go to the ER after admitting a supposed one time only thought of cutting, we went and were discharged with a “follow up with her psych. she should be ok”. I don’t know what to do; I am literally having heart complications (I have two heart conditions) from the fear, anxiety, terror, and heartbreak for my child- I cannot lose her; losin her bio dad nearly killed me! But how do I know what is best? Once she calmed down after getting busted doing something she was grounded from she was fine asand saying she never ways to do anything g to hurt us or cause us pain but she feels like a failure because she keeps getting in trouble and doesn’t like disappointing us- her 8 year old little sister with PTSD, Anxiety disorder, Panic disorder, adjustment disorder, and separation anxiety had a breakdown tonight and said she could not live without her sister and just cried and held onto and hugged her big sister for dear life. What do I do??! She swears she doesn’t want to die at all; she doesn’t WANT to hurt herself but she felt the disappointment she caused us was so painful for her she thought maybe she should be punished. She said this one and only time was 3 weeks ago but again, tonight when she got caught she made the comment “I should have just done it, should have just hurt myself”. What do I do, how do I keep both my kids healthy and safe, how do I know if she seriously wants (or wanted) to hurt herself on impulse or is she just trying to manipulate me into feeling bad when she gets caught? How do I make the choice to continue medication and therapy for the time being or admit her in the morning? She has been on 10mg Lexapro for approx. 6 weeks and it was increased to 15mg by her psychiatrist today after the ET follow up from last night and then tonight was when the new “event” took place. Is this even enough time for the original dose to be I bher system? I know I am all over the place; I apologize. I am a scared basket case whom doesn’t even know where to begin or end with this comment/search for advice; I am a basket saw who has not slept in 48 hours watching every move she makes out of pure fear. I do not want to leave my child with strangers at a hospital; I cannot handle my little girl breaking down on her birthday week because her sister is going bye-bye for who knows how long….is it necessary at this point? Can the meds still help without being admitted? Is it cause to be admitted? If so, how do I do this and not fall apart or break- I am the glue between my disabled hubby and two kids- Help, please

    1. I have a 16-year-old in the state of Virginia who is in a mental institution now she still says she’s going to kill herself when she gets out in three days the only thing they say I can do is just sign it over to foster care is that true?

      1. That’s such a scary thing to hear from your child! Have you reported her plans to the staff at the facility? I’m not sure what type of place it is, but if it’s impatient treatment and she’s actively stating she’s going to harm herself, they are likely to keep her longer until she’s stable. If that’s not their purpose, then maybe you can advocate that they send her to the hospital immediately so that she can be assessed there and possibly admitted to the psychiatric unit until they can help her manage the suicidal thoughts. I otherwise don’t know the Virginia system well and couldn’t say if foster care is the only option for her. Otherwise, it looks like Virginia has a Mental Health advocacy group that might be able to help you answer your questions. It’s at least a good place to start in your search for help for your daughter! https://mhav.org Virginia also has the National Alliance on Mental Illness who would know resources for your area, too: https://namivirginia.org/

        Good luck! I hope your daughter stays safe.

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