Young Adult Mental Health & Substance Abuse Treatment Centers

How Long Should a Young Adult Stay in Inpatient Care for Mental Health?

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When a young adult needs more support than weekly therapy or outpatient care can provide, inpatient care for mental health may be the solution. Inpatient mental healthcare is often the most effective solution for young people struggling with mental health disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and/or co-occurring issues, like substance abuse and eating disorders.

There are two types of inpatient care: treatment in a hospital and residential treatment in a home-like setting. Hospitalization may be necessary if a young adult is experiencing a mental health crisis. But accessing residential treatment early on can help a young adult avoid a crisis altogether. Residential treatment provides a supportive environment and structured schedule of therapy and life skills training, designed to create long-term healing.

Key Takeaways

  • Inpatient care is the most intensive treatment for mental health, referred to as the highest level of care.
  • The two main types of inpatient mental health treatment are hospitalization and residential treatment.
  • While inpatient care in a hospital is usually short term, residential treatment in a home-like setting typically lasts 30 days or more.
  • Research shows that residential treatment is a highly effective approach for healing mental health disorders in young adults.

Levels of Care and Types of Inpatient Care Services

The first step is to understand the difference between types of inpatient services. The two primary types of inpatient care for mental health are hospitalization and residential treatment. Both types of treatment usually include psychological and physical assessments, therapeutic care, and discharge planning. However, there are significant differences between the two types of inpatient services. 

The term “levels of care” is used to describe different types of mental health treatment. The highest level of care refers to the most intensive treatment, typically hospitalization for a mental health crisis. And the lowest level refers to the least intensive treatment, which is usually a weekly one-hour therapy appointment, either online or in person.

In between these two levels of care are the various types of outpatient programming, when clients live at home and attend treatment during the day. In a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), clients participate in clinical therapy all day, five days a week. An Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) includes afternoon hours following a client’s school or work day. And Outpatient services generally refers to just one or two afternoons of care per week.

Download our chart detailing the different levels of care, the typical length of stay for each, and what each option provides.

What’s the Difference Between Inpatient Care and Residential Treatment?

Now let’s look more closely at the types of inpatient mental health treatment. Inpatient hospital stays for mental health issues are typically initiated by a crisis, such as a suicide attempt or suicidal ideation. This type of inpatient treatment involves an overnight or longer stay in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Inpatient care is focused on stabilizing the patient and developing a plan for continued treatment. Hospitals generally employ psychiatrists and physicians to treat mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Some may have specialized units for substance abuse or eating disorders treatment.

Residential treatment is a type of inpatient program for mental health that takes place outside a hospital setting. In a residential treatment center, young adults live in home-like environments, more like college dorms rather than hospital rooms. They usually stay in treatment for 30 days or longer, and the model of care includes a range of both clinical and experiential modalities. Residential treatment centers often have the ability to offer therapeutic options that hospitals cannot, such as Equine-Assisted Therapy, horticulture and culinary therapy, art and music therapy, and yoga and meditation. Furthermore, many long-term mental health facilities provide academic and life skills programs so young adults can continue to pursue their educational and career goals while getting the care they need.

"Residential treatment centers often have the ability to offer therapeutic options that hospitals cannot, such as Equine-Assisted Therapy, horticulture and culinary therapy, art and music therapy, and yoga and meditation."

A young adult may be referred to residential treatment following an inpatient hospital stay after a crisis. Or they may be in weekly therapy or outpatient care, but they’re not getting better and need more support and structure. Long-term live-in mental health facilities offer a variety of benefits that outpatient care cannot provide. Hence, residential treatment is often more effective than other options in guiding young adults toward sustainable healing.

How to Tell If a Young Adult Needs Inpatient Care for Mental Health

When is inpatient psychiatric care needed? A mental health crisis, such as a suicide attempt, makes it clear that a young adult needs comprehensive mental health inpatient treatment immediately. But that’s not the only red flag. Here are 10 signs indicating that a young adult may need inpatient care for mental health:

  1. Becoming violent or uncontrollably angry
  2. Hurting others or committing self-harm
  3. Experiencing hallucinations or other delusions typical of psychosis
  4. Having a manic episode
  5. Unable to function in daily life due to distressing thoughts or inability to get out of bed
  6. Escalation of life-threatening eating disorders, such as anorexia
  7. Suicide attempt or ideations
  8. Drug or alcohol overdose
  9. Problems with law enforcement as a result of mental health issues
  10. Adverse reaction to a psychiatric medication

Inpatient mental health treatment provides supervision and professional expertise. Hospitalization can help young adults get through a crisis or treat the critical symptoms of a mental illness. And residential treatment can support them through the process of addressing underlying issues and creating sustainable healing.

Know the Facts

In one study, 55 percent of patients in a standard 30-day mental health treatment program had successful outcomes, vs. 84 percent of those in treatment programs lasting more than 30 days.

How Long Is an Inpatient Mental Health Stay? Long-Term Treatment vs. Short-Term Treatment 

When choosing between types of inpatient treatment, an important element for young adults and families to consider is length of stay. Different inpatient programs for mental health offer either short or long-term treatment stays.

Short-term treatment generally refers to a hospital-based program that requires less than three months of residence. Mental health inpatient treatment in a hospital is likely to be far shorter than that—as short as an overnight stay or several days. In general, 30 days is the maximum time for inpatient treatment for mental health in a hospital-based program.

However, treatment at a residential mental healthcare facility usually extends for a minimum of 30 days and may last as long as three months or more. Long-term mental heath facilities acknowledge that healing from mental health disorders and co-occurring issues is not a quick and easy process. It requires commitment, inner growth, and lifestyle change—all of which take time.

Overall, research shows that long-term mental health facilities are more effective than short-term alternatives, particularly for dual diagnoses of mental health and substance abuse. A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center tracking data from US hospitals found that patients with shorter lengths of stay were three times more likely to be readmitted to a psychiatric hospital within the next few months than those with the longest lengths of stay.

Discharging patients ‘quicker but sicker’ may have the unintended consequence of fueling revolving-door hospitalization, a pattern that disrupts mental health recovery and increases treatment costs.

from Released, Relapsed, Rehospitalized, a Treatment Advocacy Center report”

The Benefits of Long-Term Inpatient Care for Mental Health

Long-term treatment offers the space and time to achieve a range of treatment goals and create a comprehensive plan for continuing care after discharge. Here are some of the benefits of inpatient care for mental health that lasts 90 days or more. It’s important to note that many, but not all, of these benefits can be provided by long-term outpatient care.

Support to heal underlying issues

A short hospital stay can address symptoms. But to achieve sustainable healing from mental health conditions, young adults need to work with the underlying trauma and attachment wounds that catalyze anxiety, depression, and maladaptive behaviors. The process of releasing trauma, healing the inner child, and building resilience for the future is an in-depth journey that unfolds over time.

Routine and structure for building new habits

Part of healing is replacing unhealthy behaviors with self-care routines that support physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. And establishing those habits takes motivation, practice, and time. Inpatient care for mental health provides a structured schedule that allows clients to immerse themselves in new, healthy approaches to daily living. Consequently, they can take these habits home with them when they leave treatment.

Continued progress in academics and life skills

The decision to enter long-term mental health facilities often means that young adults have to leave college or the workplace. But many residential centers offer programming that enhances young people’s academic and life skills while they heal mental health issues. Consequently, patients reenter the school or work environment empowered by greater self-mastery and executive functioning abilities.

A supportive community

Long-term treatment allows young adults to build caring and supportive relationships with peers and mentors. These authentic connections are at the heart of the healing journey. Moreover, many long-term programs have an alumni support team that keeps clients connected after discharge through online and in-person get-togethers. It’s rare for short-term programs to offer this type of ongoing community and connection.

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A variety of modalities and approaches

Every young adult responds differently to different therapeutic approaches, and it may take time to find the ones that are most effective for them. In long-term treatment, clients have the opportunity to experience a wide range of modalities and discover which are most suited to their personality and preferred forms of self-expression.

Separation from unhealthy environments

Young adults sometimes enter treatment after experiencing living situations that have triggered or exacerbated their mental health issues or co-occurring disorders. Removing themselves from negative influences and environments can be key in allowing them to make lasting positive change.

A detailed aftercare plan

Long-term treatment allows psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors to develop an in-depth understanding of each client’s mental health conditions and their specific needs. As a result, the treatment team is better equipped to create a customized after-care plan to help young adults continue their healing journey after being discharged from inpatient care. This typically includes a Partial Hospitalization Program, Intensive Outpatient Program, or another form of outpatient treatment.

Hence, the benefits of long-term inpatient care for mental health are clear. But are there downsides to long-term treatment for young adults? Leaving their daily life, families, and friends can be very difficult, but is often necessary for recovery. Cost is another factor that may hinder individuals and families from seeking this level of care. However, many insurance companies provide coverage for long-term mental health facilities. And the long-term investment of receiving life-changing—and sometimes life-saving—inpatient mental health treatment is priceless.

Long-Term Treatment Services at Newport Institute

At Newport Institute, our clinical model of care nurtures the physical, psychological, and educational needs of young adults. Our residential inpatient care for mental health starts with in-depth assessments for our young adult clients, which inform highly individualized, multidisciplinary treatment plans designed by our mental health experts.

Newport Institute’s long-term treatment services incorporate family and loved ones in various aspects of the healing process. In addition, our programs utilize evidence-based clinical and experiential modalities, as well as strengths-based programming in life skills and academics.

At Newport Institute, residential long-term treatment provides a secure and supportive haven where emerging adults can gain the tools they need to thrive in this pivotal stage of life. Contact us today to learn more about our specialized inpatient care for mental health, designed to address the unique needs of young adults.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is inpatient treatment for mental health?
  • What is considered long-term in mental health?
  • Should I go to the hospital for a nervous breakdown?
  • How long can you be an inpatient at a mental hospital?
  • How do you know when it’s time to go the hospital for mental health issues?

Psych Services. 2001 Apr;52(4):526–8. 

Treatment Advocacy Center

Mental Health / February 8, 2023

Newport Institute

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