A Leader in Young Adult Mental Health Treatment

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

Reading Time: 6 minutes

When a young adult needs more support than weekly therapy or outpatient care can provide, inpatient care for mental health may be the solution. For young people struggling with trauma, depression, anxiety, or co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse and eating disorders, inpatient care can provide the environment and support needed for healing.

The first step is to understand the difference between types of inpatient services. Next, young adults and their families typically consider whether to choose short-term treatment or long-term treatment. Long-term mental health facilities offer a variety of benefits, and are often more effective in guiding young adults toward sustainable healing.

Types of Inpatient Services

The two primary types of inpatient care for mental health are hospitalization and residential treatment. While both models of care usually include psychological and physical assessments, individual and family therapy, and discharge planning, there are significant differences between the two types of inpatient services. 

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 care involves an overnight or longer stay in a psychiatric hospital or the psychiatric unit of a hospital. 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, and some may have specialized units for substance abuse or eating disorders treatment.

"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."

In a residential treatment center, stays are often 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 extensive academic and life skills programs. Moreover, young adults live in home-like environments as opposed to a hospital setting. 

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

A mental health crisis, such as a suicide attempt, makes it clear that a young adult needs comprehensive care immediately. But that’s not the only red flag. Here are some other behaviors to watch for that indicate a need for inpatient care:

  • Becoming violent or uncontrollably angry
  • Hurting others or committing self-harm
  • Experiencing hallucinations or other delusions typical of psychosis
  • Having a manic episode
  • Inability to function in daily life
  • Escalation of a life-threatening eating disorder, such as anorexia.

Inpatient care for mental health provides ongoing supervision and professional expertise that can help young adults get through a crisis and begin the journey toward healing.

Know the Facts

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

Long-Term Treatment vs. Short-Term Treatment 

When choosing between types of inpatient services, an important element for young adults and families to consider is length of stay. Different options offer either short or long-term treatment stays, with both pros and cons.

Short-term treatment generally refers to a program that requires less than three months of residence. 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 in a hospital-based mental healthcare program.

However, treatment at a residential mental healthcare facility usually extends for a minimum of 90 days and as long as six 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, 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 do the work of healing. 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.

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 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 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.

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 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, 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.


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

Treatment Advocacy Center

Mental Health / December 30, 2020

Newport Institute

Sign up for the latest in mental health
and young adult treatment.

Receive a free meditation video
when you subscribe to our newsletter!

We will never share your email address.
100% privacy guaranteed. Learn more.