How to Handle Your Teen's Stay in a Psychiatric Unit or Hospital

One of the largest killers of teenagers today is suicide. If you have a teen who is suicidal, a stay in a psychiatric unit or psychiatric hospital may be necessary. Here is how to handle a psychiatric stay in a way that helps both of you the most effectively.


  1. 1
    Be as detailed as possible when giving the unit your teenager's history. Do not worry about the staff judging you or thinking you are a "bad" parent. You have done the best you were able to with the situation you were dealing with.
    • Without all of the details, the staff at the hospital will not be able to help your teen to the fullest extent. If necessary, allow your teen to tell his version of the history first, then ask to speak to the staff privately so that you can fill them in with your version of what has been happening in your teen's life and what may be causing the suicidal feelings. This can be a delicate process, and emotionally draining, take it slow if you need to, the staff will understand.
  2. 2
    Learn the names of the doctors, nurses, and aides that are spending time with, and treating, your teen. By doing this you have direct contacts when you need them, and can call daily and get updates from the staff rather then just your teen. Their accounts of what is happening may be quite different from your teen's, and you need to tell the staff what you are seeing and what your opinion is regarding your teen's behavior while they are hospitalized.
  3. 3
    Participate in "patient centered rounds", or the doctor's rounds that include the parents. Most hospitals have one or the other. Patient centered rounds are when your teen joins you, the doctor, the social worker assigned to the case, the charge nurse and sometimes the educational director, as well as anyone else that is assigned directly to your teen. Very often these types of rounds are scheduled once or twice a week very early in the morning. Doctor's rounds with parents are usually large meetings that include the staff that is working closely with your teen (including the people mentioned above) and just the parents—the teen is not included. These meetings can be anytime during the day, but are usually only scheduled one day a week. While this can be inconvenient, it's worth going to in order to get information directly from the staff working the closest with your teen. These meetings allow you to get the inside view on what is happening, as well as spend a much more significant amount of time with staff members then is regularly provided.
  4. 4
    Connect with one or two nurses who are assigned your teen often. Get to know them by name. If you know the nurses' and aides' names, they tend to be friendlier and more receptive to talking to you on a more compassionate, personal level. Be cordial and polite to them; many parents call and yell when they are displeased so your attitude will be a welcome change. Never yell at them, no matter how frustrated or angry you may get at something that is happening at the hospital. Staff tend to turn off when a parent is yelling or swearing at them and will not listen as intently as they will if you are polite and explain your concerns in a calm way. Having a personal connection that you can call at the hospital to check on your teen and express concerns to is a resource that many parents do not cultivate. If you have trouble reaching staff, remember they are often very busy. Try not to call when shift change is occurring. In most hospitals this is usually at 7 a.m, 3 p.m, 7 p.m and 11:00 p.m. There is a shift change meeting which usually takes place a half hour before the staff changes over—do not expect anyone to be available to speak to you during this time, as most of the staff are in the meeting, other than the few taking care of the teens.
  5. 5
    Speak to the social worker assigned to your teen every two days or so. There will be a social worker assigned to your teen who helps determine after care when hospitalization ends. You want to keep the lines of communication open with them. It can be pivotal in what happens to your teen when he leaves the hospital. The social worker is the one who calls other facilities such as a substance abuse treatment center, a day treatment program, or placement and gets insurance approval for any after hospitalization treatment other than doctor's visits. There are usually very few social workers and many teens, so do not expect calls every day from them. Be proactive about calling them if you don't hear from them every few days, as well as returning their calls. The social worker assigned to patients usually only works business hours, so don't expect to reach them after hours. There is normally another social worker who is an emergency and admissions social worker that is at the hospital after hours, but they will not know your teen as well as the day social worker.
  6. 6
    Visit your teen often. Show him that you are supportive and loving. Understand that while there can be circumstantial reasons your teen is suicidal it is often a chemical imbalance that needs to be corrected, and that it is not your teen's fault. Tell your teen you are proud for getting help and that you will be supportive when he returns home. If you don't visit, at least some of the time, it can increase the feelings of loneliness and abandonment that many teens who are suicidal feel. Sometimes visitation can just be a time to sit there and hold hands with your teen. There doesn't need to be any conversation at all, other then "I love you".
  7. 7
    Be sure to follow up with aftercare. Plan on helping the social worker and your teen work out plans for after your teen is released from the hospital. Often, teens regress somewhat after hospitalization and need assistance with taking their medications, going to doctor's appointments and just life in general. Be patient with your teen, understand that with work he will hopefully feel better at some point, it just may take a while. During that time be as supportive and helpful as possible. Reduce your expectations so you aren't disappointed and make sure you have your teen do all of the after care recommended by the doctor. Doing so may help your teen recover faster.


  • While it can feel like your fault that your teen needs hospitalization, understand that many teens are going through things people can only imagine, and you may not have realized what your teen was experiencing. Use this time as a time to understand your teen better so that you can help them before reaching the point of becoming suicidal.
  • Make sure your teen has appropriate clothing for the hospital: no strings, belts or shoe ties are a few, there are others the hospital will inform you of. If your teen has sensory issues see if it's okay to bring their favorite blanket to the hospital to help with sleeping. Hospital sheets can be scratchy.
  • Respect the doctor's and staff's opinion even if you disagree. If you disagree explain why and discuss it with them rather then just get angry. You have a better chance of the doctor changing her opinion based on your reasons if you discuss them calmly.
  • If your teen is discharged with a plan you don't agree with, notate why on the discharge papers and sign them. Keep a copy for your records.
  • Most psychiatric hospitals and units require a medical clearance before admission. Go to the ER first if your teen is suicidal and ask for one. Also request a social worker to place your teen in a psychiatric unit. If possible, prior to placement research the hospitals and request hospitals based on their reputation. Often the social worker who is placing your teen can attempt to place him in those hospitals first. If that is not possible, you can change the hospital later if you are unhappy with it.
  • It's okay to need support for yourself while your teen is hospitalized. It's a traumatic situation. Spend time with family and friends who understand. Pamper yourself with a massage or facial. Stay active; exercise helps keep your mind off of things, as does yoga. Don't be afraid to talk to the staff at the hospital if you're feeling overwhelmed, as they may have other suggestions and should be able to refer you to local support groups.


  • It is better to express negative feelings while your teen is hospitalized then when he comes home and doesn't have the hospital staff and other teens around for support.
  • If you yell at the staff or are constantly angry and defensive you may not get the assistance for your teen that he needs. It is much better to be calm and rational when discussing issues you may have regarding treatment with their assigned staff such as the nurses and doctors. When you're speaking to the nurses, remember that it's the doctors who write the orders and have control over treatment, not the nurses.
  • You may hear things about your teen that are shocking or upsetting. Do not let your teen see contempt or rejection no matter how hard it may be to restrain yourself. While he is hospitalized, it is about his feelings more than yours. It is okay to show shock and to be upset; that is understandable and expected.
  • Do not get discouraged if you have little choice or say as to what hospital or facility your teen is admitted to. Remember your teen is still being kept safe no matter which hospital he is placed in.

Sources and Citations

  • Havenwyck Psychiatric Hospital
  • White Pines Psychiatric Hospital

Article Info

Categories: Raising Teens | Emotional Conditions