Inpatient Mental Health Treatment Facilities: Who Needs One?

Inpatient mental health treatment facilities are one of the many forms of mental health help available to people living with mental health difficulties. Inpatient care refers to admission into a facility dedicated solely for mental health care or a hospital (usually with a distinct mental health section) for the treatment of mental illness.

The purpose of inpatient mental health treatment facilities is drastically different from their purpose a half-century ago (The History of Mental Illness). While psychiatric hospitals originally existed to confine people with mental illness and lock them away from mainstream society, today's inpatient treatment programs exist to treat people with mental illness and related mental health problems and to help them thrive in society. Inpatient mental health facilities exist to help people, to enhance mental health in a safe, controlled environment.

Who Needs Inpatient Mental Health Treatment Facilities?

Inpatient mental health treatment centers are there to help when someone needs stabilization. Many mental disorders, including (but not limited to) schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, schizoaffective disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) flare up from time-to-time, similar to diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. As with diabetes and heart disease, when mental illnesses flare up (known as acute mental illness), inpatient hospitalization may be needed.

Hospitalization is part of a spectrum of mental health services. It's something that's typically used as a last resort when other different types of mental health therapies don't create improvement. Inpatient mental health treatment facilities are primarily used for people who are

  • a danger to themselves, suicidal
  • a danger to others through threats and/or aggression
  • in need of stabilization due to out-of-control thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviors
  • in need of medication management/changes beyond what can be done in visits to a psychiatrist
  • experiencing increased mental health problems despite outpatient care
  • using substances
  • experiencing psychosis (hallucinations and delusions)
  • harming themselves through neglect (failure to eat and/or engage in self-care)

Inpatient Mental Health Services

Inpatient mental health facilities exist to help people stabilize and achieve wellness so they can function independently and create success in their lives. To that end, they involve a number of different services that reduce suffering and optimize mental health:

  • individual and group therapy
  • expressive therapies, such as art, music, and writing/journaling
  • occupational therapy
  • recreation
  • psychoeducation
  • daily visits with a psychiatrist, therapist, social worker, etc.

To provide the above services, many different mental health professionals work in inpatient settings, including psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, social workers, mental health nurses, and behavioral health technicians/specialists. Together, they provide 24/7 care to the people staying there temporarily for intense mental health treatment.

Goal of Inpatient Mental Health Treatment

When someone is experiencing acute mental illness, an intensification of their mental health symptoms, he/she typically needs help stabilizing. Once stable and secure, he/she can begin to regain or build new coping skills to reduce the likelihood of future destabilization. Each person staying in an inpatient mental health treatment facility has goals tailored specifically to him/her, but there are generalized goals that apply to anyone staying as an inpatient in a mental health treatment center. The team of professionals works with a patient to

  • reduce stimulation and steady thoughts, emotions, and behaviors
  • determine what went wrong to cause the crisis (in order to prevent a future crisis)
  • determine what works best among different types of medications and therapies
  • identify a social support network to connect with upon leaving the hospital
  • increase coping skills and techniques for wellbeing after hospitalization

To achieve these goals and best help people in crisis, inpatient mental health facilities are quite regimented. They operate on a strict schedule where wake times, meal times, and activity/therapy times are preset and followed by all. Part of the reason for tight scheduling is to create a sense of routine to help calm the chaos that is undoubtedly occurring within the person in need of inpatient treatment.

Inpatient mental health treatment facilities are designed for people who need to regain wellness; as such, they don't exist to contain people and keep them out of society. The goal is to help people so they can return to society and live the mentally healthy life they deserve.

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, October 13). Inpatient Mental Health Treatment Facilities: Who Needs One?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 23 from

Last Updated: October 23, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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