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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.

You can find Christina on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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

  1. My daughter was admitted to adolescents psychiatrist hospital yesterday. I am scared. She just 13 years old. Look like she is one of a few youngest girl there. The scene where she is at scared me to death. She is diagnosed with sucidal ideation. She is depressed with peer pressure, meet expectations, feeling of wanting to be normal like friends because she has learning disability. She is afraid that her friend know of her LD. She wants to get good grades, go to top high school that her friends planning to go. Unfortunately she can’t cope with this pressure. She becomes depress and find way to relieve stress by ccutting (scar) her wrists and took any medication she could find in the house. She was admitted in ER on Saturday but release. When she was home, everything was back to normal like went to school. Do sport but she still wrote to her friends that she still wants to self harm and that she got adicted to do hself-harm.
    I am not sure I am pleased with our decision to hospitalize her. I know she is safe there, but I worry the medication (sleeping pills they gave and the kids who have different mental illness in the same unit.
    I am scared that she will be there for a long time.
    We are waiting for hospital psychiatrist to call to tell us which medication she will take!
    I am wondering whether we should agree or disagree with medication they want tp give her.
    We have to wait for 6pm to visit her.
    I know I have to take care of myself (I have hypertension and now it’s very high) but I can’t help to worry about her. I can’t sleep for 6 days.
    I feel guilty not knowing this early to help her. I feel scare to have her at home but worry her well-being when she is in hospital. She is so young! Why she has to go through this! Please help me to understand that the hospital is the good place for her safety and she will be home soon. I will do anything to make her happy, safe. Thamks a lot.

    1. I’m so sorry for your suffering, Temmy. I’m Susan Traugh, another author at HealthyPlace.com. Putting my daughter into a psychiatric hospital for the first time felt like cutting off my right arm. I couldn’t stop feeling afraid, or that I had failed my child in some way. I remember how terrified I was to leave my child with strangers in a place that felt so overwhelming and scary. But, you did the right thing. Your child will be safe there until they can regulate her meds and come up with a plan. (Chances are she will not stay very long before they want to release her or move her to a different facility.) I will warn you that she will not like the place and try to talk you into taking her out. She is having to confront her illness in a way she probably hasn’t done before and it will make her uncomfortable. She will be under strict rules of behavior that she may not like. (But, remember, these rules also apply to all the other patients and will keep your child safe.) Despite the scariness, discomfort and trauma of a hospitalization, I believe it is the first step to wholeness and wellness. Remember, your child is a minor and you are part of her treatment team. If she has a regular psychiatrist, you can call her or him to coordinate care. If not, you may want to bounce things off your pediatrician if that will make you feel more comfortable. Again, this site has resources to check out meds and educate yourself on diagnoses. Education is power. Both of my daughters were hospitalized a number of times for their mental illness. My youngest had to stay in a residential facility for a year. It was one of the worst years of my life. But, it was worth it when my daughter said, “Mom, going to residential was the worst thing that every happened to me–but it changed, and saved, my life and I’m so happy that you did it.” That child has graduated a certificate program at college and is working her first job. She is happy and healthy and functioning. She has a nice group of friends. (My other daughter is now working as a preschool teacher.) You and your daughter have a rough patch ahead of you as you work together to get her the help and support she needs to deal with her mental illness. Keep reaching out to places like HealthyPlace. Check out the resources page on this site to find a support group for yourself. I couldn’t have made it without other wise women who were going through the same things I was. You are right to know you need to take care of yourself. Don’t forget to do that every day. Don’t lose hope. You have reached out to find resources for your daughter; you are finding resources for yourself. Keep doing what you’re doing. You’re on the right track. I’m sending good thoughts for you and your child.

      1. Dear Susan,
        Thank you so much for your support and kind words.
        My daughter took med and looks happier today.
        My husband and I visited her every day .
        Please tell me what we should do during the visiting (2hrs) we play cards, talked eat and….don’t know what else to say or do. Today I visited her twice , afternoon and evening. In the evening we came for 1.5 hr. After eating, we don’t know whatelse to do because she doesn’t want to play card any more. And the girls(patient) next to us keeping crying and complaining so I told them to move somewhere else, but no where else to sit. Luckily she said she wanted to take a shower but hesitated to do it because we still were here. I encouraged her to go taking a shower and waited for her.
        She looked happier today. Her med side effect is gone ( no more headache) .it looked like the med does the trick, relieve the depression. Gradually she will feel a lot better and will be discharged and resume her normal life?
        Thamks everyone for posting your experinses

        1. Hi Temmy,

          I’m so glad to hear such good news about your daughter! It sounds like you’re all on the right track.

          Might I suggest coloring books? (You know, the intricate, adult coloring books that are so popular now?) My girls and I liked them because they let us do something while we talked. We tried to finish a picture together during the visit. I also brought in catalogs so that we could dream aloud about the future we would make together. (Once, when my girl needed a new therapist, I printed out the list with pictures and we “interviewed” each bio to see who we thought would be a good fit.)

          But future plans are important. You, your husband, and your daughter will need a plan when she comes out. What can you do to create a support system? What safeguards can be created so you don’t end up back in this place again? What dreams can you aspire to so that your daughter has the sense that she is doing something concrete to move her life forward?

          You have the luxury of intermission in this life-play. This is a time when you can assess where you’re at and make adjustments for the happy ending you are shooting for. You know the pitfalls now. So, now’s the time to fortify yourselves and plan so that you don’t fall into the same trap again.

          For my girls and me, hospital visits were the time for us to dream and plan and assess. Our conversations were gentle and productive. And we usually emerged on the same page about how we were going to keep them out of the hospital again.

          Finally, yes, she will gradually resume a normal or new-normal life. Just remember “gradual” is the key word here. You child has been very ill, and like any other organ’s illness, her brain will need some time to recuperate.

          I wish you all the best on your journey. This might sound weird, but I feel blessed by my girls’ mental illness. Over the years we’ve been able to have a much deeper, more honest and game-free relationship with each other–a relationship that we might have been too-busy or too-distracted to engage in otherwise. My thoughts are with your family that you experience the small blessings of your current experiences.

    2. Hi Temmy,
      I am so sorry for what you are going through. I had to admit my 12 very old daughter on 10/6/17. I very much had the same feelings as you. Having my 12 year old admitted into a hospital that was primarily older teenagers was very concerning for me. But, there was nothing I could do, and I just had to trust the process.

      Hearing that my daughter was planning on suicide broke me. She was admitted to the Mental Health hospital for 5 days. We were only allowed to visit her for 30 minutes in the evening. The hospital was 2.5 hours away from where we live, but my husband and I made the drive there every night.

      I knew my daughter was struggling but I was unable to see how badly. She has always been an amazingly bright person who lights up every room. Seeing her light dim has been extremely difficult. We opted to put her on Lexapro, and so far it has been good.

      I myself have struggled with pretty significant depression and anxiety, and I am definitely struggling right now. I am trying to keep moving forward with “normal life” however, I can feel myself slipping closer and closer into depression. I begin my own therapy next week, and as a family we begin therapy as well.

      Just know that you are not alone.

      Xoxo- Jess

      1. Dear Jess,

        I so appreciate you reaching out to Temmy on this site. Especially when we are immersed in the daunting struggles of our children’s mental illness, we can feel so alone and isolated. It can feel life-saving to hear from others who are walking a similar path.

        I’m so sorry to hear about your daughter. Our desire to protect our children is great and being so far away from your child can be heartbreaking. I’m not surprised to hear that you are struggling with depression and anxiety yourself. I know whenever I put one of my girls into the hospital depression sits on my shoulder. However, I’m glad to hear that you are beginning therapy next week. We mamas have to make sure we get the support we need also.

        I wish you the best in your journey and, again, thank you for reaching out.

  2. Wish I knew what to do for my 19 year old daughter. She was admitted to the hospital today. Since she is over 18 I don’t get the same information as adolescents. I am at a loss.

    1. It’s possible to still be part of her treatment team. If she’s taking visitors, or will talk to her over the phone, ask her to sign a release of information. You can call the hospital and ask them to have her fill one out, too. They can always take info from you even if they can’t provide you info. It’s worth a try. Otherwise, always feel free to talk to your local NAMI. They are very good advocates for families of people with mental illnesses.

      1. I am on her list to receive information and I have gotten some information from them I just feel like I’m not going to be kept up on things. Th hospital she is at is about an hour away. She is in college about an hour and a half a way and that was the closest hospital to the school. She is allowed to make phone calls if she wants and they said the would let her know I called. As for now I guess I just wait. The visitation is on twice during the week and one time each day on Saturday and Sunday. And sorry I do not know what NAMI stands for.

        1. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. If you go to the following link, it can connect you to your local chapter:


          In general, they are a good resource for families of people with mental illness. My child is only 10, but in my professional life, I have seen how hard it is to connect adult children to their supportive parents. Doctors don’t create discharge plans for people with mental illness the way they do for people who’ve been hospitalized for conditions like cancer or diabetes. Family supports are often happily utilized in those instances, but the stigma of mental illness can really limit how much individuals or providers will allow their family into the mental health recovery process. NAMI has done some work in making psychiatric hospitalizations less traumatic for individuals and their families. It’s a hard path, but hopefully that link can provide some good places to start!

    2. I know exactly what you mean my daughter 22 is locked up has severe bruises all over scabs on her face no rights being jabbed with needles I have asked to be more informed but still am not she has declined after being in there for 4 weeks the legal system is a joke more needs to be done for mental health and patience rights this is a living nightmare

  3. My daughter was just admitted into a facility yesterday and I too feel like the worse parent. What did I do wrong? As a child she was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, took her to see therapist but therapist was so rude and judgemental my daughter didn’t want to go back. I myself ended session early because therapist was upset with my daughter because she would talk. She made no effort in trying to communicate with my daughter. She refused meds. Now we found a great therapist about to begin EMDR but my daughter flipped and now is placed in facility. I’m a hot mess. She was also date rapped about a year ago. Will EMDR work for her and will I have my baby girl back?

    1. All you can do is try! Different types of therapies work for different types of people. It really depends on the skill of the therapist, too. EMDR has worked really well for people with trauma, from what I understand, so I hope things go well for your daughter this time around!

  4. i want to die im 16 soon to be 17 and im just tired and depressed and feel like im gonna do something dumb one day and i dont want to but it feels like im drowning i talked to my perents about it and they dont really listen they just brush it off and tell me its no big deal and that other people have it worse and i know they do but i just cant take it anymore im just tired.

    1. Oh, Lexi, please do not hurt yourself. HealthyPlace has a resource page of places to help you here: https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/suicide/suicide-suicidal-thoughts-and-behaviors-toc/ One of the easiest numbers to remember is: 1-800-SUICIDE.

      Whatever number you choose, I want you to make a phone call right now. Right now. Tell them what’s going on with you. Then, show your folks this post you sent. Tell them again what you are thinking. I’d also like you to create and sign a safety contract that promises that you will not hurt yourself, but will seek help when feelings of overwhelm threaten to drown you. https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/parentingchildwithmentalillness/2017/08/create-safety-contract-for-teen-with-bipolar/

      Lexi, life will get better. I promise. Both of my daughters have contemplated suicide and both tell me all the time how grateful they are that they didn’t do it. There is help out there for you. Seek it. Or, write back here–I’ll be watching for you. You are precious–take care of yourself.

  5. I’m falling apart.My 16 year old son is being admitted inpatient Tomorrow morning to a psychiatric hospital and I’m losing it I feel like i can’t breathe and the walls are closing in.I have no one to reach out to

    1. Breathe in and breathe out, Anita. It will be okay. I remember the first time I admitted my daughter–it was horrible. I was terrified for my child, felt like a terrible parent, felt like my world was coming to an end. I know this is hard on you. But, you son will be safe. He will be in good hands. Professionals will be able to look at his situation and provide the medicine and therapy he needs to begin to give him his life back. This is a good thing. You are doing the most responsible thing you can do to help your child. My heart goes out to you as you suffer through the next few days…but, I’m also so proud of you for doing the hard things that we moms of kids with mental illness must do. Know that my thoughts are with you…and good luck to both you and your son.

  6. My husband and I found letters notes saying my daughter wants to kill herself there was a death threat to me the stepmother I suspect she’s bipolar and has Defiance disorder about every 3 months 2 months he has a breakdown she lies steals my things I had to prove to Dad that I wasn’t feeling her clothes cuz that’s what she was accusing me of but finally after 9 months to a year Dad and I went in her room and we found my clothes hidden so he believed me obviously after that that’s really hurt me that he didn’t believe me I would steal her quote she’s a sofa me and several occasions we had an agreement to take her to the hospital yesterday and he backed out because she threatened to call the police and say we do drugs or whatever she could say she said and now my husband doesn’t want to take her to the hospital because he’s afraid that they’re going to believe her and I tell him do you know how many children probably do this we were going to a children’s hospital they see this everyday because they’re mad that their parents are admitting them so they falsely accuse you specially at a children’s hospital they see this all the time my husband refuses and I’m scared she’s going to hurt herself kill herself yesterday he told me you were right we should have took her to the hospital last night all day we had plans on taking her to the hospital we were having his sister talk to her and then him and his sister come up with the plan for outpatient therapy him nor his sister know her like I do with her all the time I know her better than anybody due to the fact that I’m with her all the time her aunt is only seen her 3 times in a year and before that they had no relationship dad works all the time and I’m just that Mom so I can’t do anything when I know that she needs immediate help but my husband is afraid that they’re going to believe the allegations that she threatened to tell she said she tell him anything she could think of that she’s being abused that we’re drug addict that we both abuser and we don’t take care of her Etc which is all lies and he really thinks that they’re going to believe her and I told him so what we’re not doing anything so let them come out and investigate but then but he won’t take her his sister talked him out of it that he’s been estranged from 4 years up until the last year Dayton acted but they’ve only seen each other twice and she doesn’t know my real daughter she knows the fake daughter that’s all nicey-nicey fake when she goes to her aunt’s house but when she comes home from my aunt’s house does nothing but dog our Aunt her cousins all of them I need some advice I would appreciate any advice I’m truly afraid that my daughter is going to commit suicide

  7. I let go and let god. I really believe that the only way the creator can help you is if you put your whole trust in him! I’ve never been so afraid before because I don’t know what will happen. I tend to
    Think the worst. Drugs and alcohol I dispise and hate, but my daughter chooses to have it. I ask creator what do I do please show me and guide me. Protect her

    1. Hi Momma Bear, This is Susan Traugh, another blogger on HealthyPlace.com. I’m sorry to hear about your daughter and understand your fear. My daughters have been admitted several times and it can be heart-wrenching for parents to separate from their child. Do you have support for yourself? For your daughter? If you do not already have a support system, I urge you to go to the Resources here and make some calls. And, I wish the best to you and your daughter.

  8. My son was admitted this week and your experience could have been verbatim if mine. My son is still in hospital and it has made me realize the reality of the situation. I just couldn’t see it until now. It’s been a very painful road. But I’m grateful that he was admitted and nervous about when he is released. Thanks for your blog!

    1. For me, Patty Ann, realizing my daughters’ reality for a major step in getting help. Denial is such a seductive place to go. But, as difficult as it is to face the hard truth, it was my first step to freedom and hope.

  9. Thankyou for sharing your story. I am at a loss right now what to do for my daughter. She is 22 I am her guardian because she has a learning disability. She is so angry lately good days then more bad days. This has been going on since she was 17. I have tried counseling no luck. Then at one point I called a helpline and they did not feel it was necessary for her to be in a hospital. Hmmm really looking around my messed up living room. I have no help with this. I feel like a prisoner I have no future

  10. Thank you for providing some hopeful information. Our son went in today and our heads are spinning. Thank you again.

    1. Had to leave my son last night. The look on his face was devastating. I’ll never get over it. I was supposed to help him and I couldn’t;(

      1. Hi Donna, This is Susan Traugh, another blogger on HealthyPlace. I remember the first time I had to leave my daughter. Two attendants were restraining her while she screamed, “Mommy, please, please don’t leave me!” It was a knife in my heart…even ten years later. But, I know it was the right thing to do. Years later, my daughter and I talked about it. Her reply summed up this whole impossible situation when she said, “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me–that totally saved my life.” Remember, you DID help him. You just called in the cavalry.

    2. Hi Charles, I’m Susan Traugh, another blogger on HealthyPlace and the mom of two daughters with bipolar who have both been hospitalized on more than one occasion. I’m glad you found this post helpful and believe that your hopefulness is well-placed. I wish you and your son the best of luck on this journey.

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