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Inpatient Treatment for Mental Health Conditions

Hannah Friedman
 March 25th, 2022|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

Mental illness is highly treatable. But if you’re struggling, it can be hard to know where to start. Just remember that you are not alone, and that it’s ok to ask for help from the experts. Sometimes, the best way to begin healing is by attending an inpatient treatment program.

Residential rehab isn’t just for substance use disorders. These programs can also help patients heal from mental health conditions, manage chronic symptoms, and process trauma. They may be a good fit for those who need intensive treatment in order to kickstart the healing process.

Inpatient treatment won’t “cure” you. Most mental illnesses are lifelong conditions. However, you’ll likely leave the program with new knowledge and skills that will help you build a sustainable life. Different facilities treat a variety of mental health concerns, including but not limited to the following diagnoses:

Anxiety Disorders

The term “anxiety disorder” may refer to a number of specific diagnoses. Some of the major types of anxiety disorders are:

  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is characterized by chronic feelings of anxiety, regardless of life circumstances.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder causes excessive self-consciousness or anxiety in social situations. Symptoms may occur in specific situations, such as large parties or formal events, or may be present in all social interactions.
  • Panic Disorder is a condition in which patients have repeated and unexpected panic attacks, including both emotional and physical symptoms, such as intense fear and an elevated heart rate.

Other more complex conditions, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are sometimes also categorized as anxiety disorders.

Although anxiety disorders are the “most common mental illness in the U.S.,”1 only 36.9% of people with these diagnoses receive treatment. These patients are six times more likely than others to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders.

Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders can be treated2 with medication, talk therapy, or both. Commonly prescribed anxiety medications3 include SSRIs (like Prozac), SNRIs (like Cymbalta) or benzodiazepines (like Xanax).

Whether or not they take medication, people with these conditions often benefit from various types of talk therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)4 can be especially helpful. In this modality, patients learn specific skills to help them to interrupt anxious thought patterns and navigate triggering situations.

Inpatient treatment is rarely necessary for patients with minor or intermittent anxiety. However, untreated anxiety disorders may lead to severe symptoms, including suicidal ideation. These patients may benefit from residential programs, in which they can learn new coping mechanisms in a safe, protected environment.

Bipolar Disorder

This condition, once called manic-depressive disorder, is characterized by cycling periods of depression and mania. Some patients also experience hypomania, which is a less severe symptom, and may just present as increased energy and productivity. There are three clearly defined types of bipolar disorder:5

  • Bipolar I disorder includes manic episodes that last at least 7 days, or are so severe that they require hospitalization, and depressive episodes that typically last 2 weeks. This is considered to be the most severe type of the condition.
  • Bipolar II disorder has similar depressive episodes, but includes less severe symptoms of mania than Bipolar I. Instead, patients usually exhibit signs of hypomania.
  • Cyclothymic disorder (cyclothymia) presents with similar symptoms, including some combination of depression, mania, and/or hypomania. However, patients with this condition do not meet the exact criteria for either Bipolar I or Bipolar II.

These chronic illnesses may be caused by a combination of genetics, adverse life events, and neurochemical imbalances. Because of this, treatment protocols may be complex and highly individualized to each patient.

Treatment Options for Bipolar Disorder

People with bipolar may require hospitalization6 more frequently than those with other diagnoses, possibly because of the unpredictable nature of this disorder. Severe symptoms may appear suddenly and frequently, especially if the patient does not have an adequate plan for long-term care.

This condition is most often treated with a combination of medication and talk therapy. Pharmaceutical treatment of bipolar7 may include mood stabilizers (such as lithium and lamotrigine) and antidepressants. Studies also show that certain types of psychotherapy—including CBT, family-focused talk therapy, and interpersonal and social rhythm therapy— are particularly effective.

Because bipolar disorder may be genetic and/or neurochemical, even inpatient treatment will not completely alleviate symptoms. However, temporary residential care may help patients determine which methods will be most helpful for long-term maintenance.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mood disorder. It’s often misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, and to the untrained eye, symptoms may appear extremely similar. However, BPD is more closely related to PTSD and C-PTSD, as traumatic life events can cause symptoms to appear or worsen. These experiences may interfere with a person’s ability to develop a stable sense of self, regulate their emotions, and maintain healthy relationships. Patients exhibit at least 5 of the 9 official diagnostic criteria for BPD, as defined by the DSM-5. Quoted directly from an article on diagnosing borderline personality disorder8 published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, these criteria are as follows:

  • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in criterion 5.
  • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
  • Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
  • Impulsivity in at least 2 areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). Note: Do not include suicidal or self-mutilating behaviour covered in criterion 5.
  • Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour.
  • Affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and only rarely more than a few days).
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness.
  • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
  • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

Although borderline personality disorder may have a neurochemical component, it is primarily a behavioral disorder. Because of this, it’s absolutely possible for these patients to improve and even go into remission from BPD.9

Treatment Options for Borderline Personality Disorder

BPD is usually treated with dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). This type of therapy combines group sessions with 1-on-1 talk therapy. The group therapy component resembles a class, as patients go through lessons from a textbook and even complete homework assignments. Groups normally meet several times a week, while 1-on-1 sessions take place at least once a week. Unlike most other forms of therapy, patients may be invited to contact their providers by phone in between sessions.

While DBT can be effective in an outpatient setting, residential treatment allows patients to focus on healing with fewer distractions. Research suggests that inpatient DBT may be more effective at treating borderline personality disorder10 than other modalities. Talk therapy of any kind is often combined with prescription medications, such as mood stabilizers, antidepressants, or anti-anxiety medications.


Depression, or major depressive disorder,11 is an extremely common diagnosis. As of 2019, an estimated 7.8% of all adults in the U.S. had major depression. This condition is characterized by a period of at least two weeks in which the patient “experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and had a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth.”

It is important to differentiate between depression and sadness or grief.12 Depression is a mental health condition, and not a proportionate response to current life events. It is also known to damage a person’s self-esteem, and may cause feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness. Sadness and grief, on the other hand, are generally caused by specific circumstances. These emotions can be overwhelming, but they do not necessarily damage a person’s sense of self.

Depression may be caused by genetics,13 biochemistry, or environmental factors. Those with low self-esteem may also be at risk for developing this condition. Fortunately, most cases of depression are highly treatable.

Treatment Options for Depression

Perhaps because of its high prevalence, there are many different treatments available for major depressive disorder.14 Most patients benefit from some combination of medication, talk therapy, and brain stimulation therapies.

Antidepressants, including SSRIs (like Prozac) and SNRIs (like Cymbalta), are commonly used to treat major depression. Patients normally begin to see results 2-4 weeks after they begin taking a new prescription. Severe cases are usually treated with talk therapy at the same time, and mild cases may be treated with talk therapy alone. “The length and severity of the symptoms and episodes of depression15 often determine the type of therapy.”

If a patient has treatment-resistant depression, they may be advised to try alternative modalities, such as brain stimulation therapies.16 Specifically, depression can be treated with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), vagus nerve stimulation (VNS), and deep brain stimulation (DBS). These therapies are intended to have a direct effect on brain or nervous system function, alleviating the most extreme symptoms of depression.

Because it may lead to suicidal ideation, some patients may be hospitalized for depression on an urgent basis. If possible, it’s best to get help before your symptoms become so severe. There’s no need to wait for an emergency before attending a residential program.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the global population.17 These conditions can affect anyone, regardless of gender, body type, ability, occupation, age, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. However, certain demographics may be at a higher risk for developing certain diagnoses. Following are some of the most common types of eating disorders:18

  • Anorexia nervosa is characterized by the severe restriction of caloric intake. Patients with this condition may exhibit dramatic weight loss, a preoccupation with food and dieting, or adherence to an overly strict or taxing exercise routine.
  • Bulimia nervosa follows a binge-purge cycle. Patients with bulimia tend to binge eat, and then induce vomiting. Some also present with dental problems, weight loss, and excessive time spent in the bathroom after meals.
  • Binge eating disorder involves episodes of binge eating. Unlike bulimia, these episodes are not followed by purging. People with this condition may feel or express guilt and shame, hide food in strange places, and create lifestyle schedules that make time for binging behaviors.
  • Other specified feeding and eating disorders (OSFED) is a term that refers to eating disorders that do not fit neatly into any of the above categories. Patients with OSFED may exhibit weight loss or gain, and their self-esteem may be overly tied to body image.

Eating disorders are defined by a person’s behavior and emotional state, and not their body size. For example, it’s possible for someone to have anorexia and not appear clinically underweight. Eating disorders can be serious, and even life-threatening, no matter whether the patient’s weight is perceived to be healthy.

Treatment Options for Eating Disorders

Many people with eating disorders develop physical complications due to malnutrition. Because of this, hospitalization or inpatient treatment may be an important first step toward healing. This is not necessary for all patients, as it depends on the severity of their symptoms.

Some patients may benefit from residential treatment even if they don’t present with physical complications. This is an opportunity for them to begin intensive psychotherapy, work with a nutrition counselor, and be closely monitored for disordered behavior around food.

Medication alone is not usually used to treat eating disorders.19 In some cases, antidepressants or antianxiety medications may be prescribed in addition to therapy and behavioral health strategies. These patients may benefit from a number of different types of psychotherapy,20 including but not limited to acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT).


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) are very similar mental health diagnoses, and are both caused by adverse life experiences. It’s important to differentiate between PTSD and C-PTSD21 in order to design an appropriate treatment plan.

PTSD is normally caused by specific, time-bound traumatic occurrences. On the other hand, C-PTSD is caused by complex trauma,22 which is the prolonged exposure to extreme circumstances such as “domestic violence, childhood sexual or physical abuse, torture, genocide campaigns, slavery etc. along with the victim’s inability to escape.” It’s important to note that C-PTSD is not yet considered an official diagnosis.23 Despite this, it is an area of interest for researchers, and some have proposed that it be included in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The shared symptoms of PTSD and C-PTSD21 include the following:

  • flashbacks to and nightmares of the inciting traumatic event
  • avoidance of thoughts, people, places, and activities that may bring up painful memories
  • hypervigilance due to a constant or persistent sense of threat/danger
  • an exaggerated startle response

C-PTSD may also involve personality and mood changes, difficulty with emotion regulation, a sense of worthlessness, the risk of self harm, paranoia, and/or dissociation.

“Most people with PTSD—about 80%—have one or more additional mental health diagnoses. They are also at risk for functional impairments, reduced quality of life, and relationship problems. PTSD and trauma24 are linked to physical health problems as well.” People with a history of trauma may benefit from intensive therapy for these co-occurring disorders, which may include a period of residential treatment.

Treatment Options for PTSD and C-PTSD

It’s important for people with these diagnoses to seek out trauma-informed care. This approach to treatment takes their unique symptoms and experiences into account, and fosters a more productive environment for healing.

The primary treatment for PTSD25 and C-PTSD is psychotherapy. Clinicians strongly recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and prolonged exposure therapy, although other styles of therapy may also be helpful. These two modalities invite patients to face the original traumatic events head-on, developing skills that will help them navigate flashbacks and triggers in the future.

Patients may be prescribed medication in additionto—but not instead of—therapeutic interventions. Most often, PTSD is treated with SSRIs.26


Schizophrenia27 is a chronic brain disorder, characterized by difficulty distinguishing between the real and the unreal. Symptoms generally fall into one of three categories:

  • Positive symptoms: The abnormal presence of visual or aural hallucinations, paranoia, distorted perceptions of the world
  • Negative symptoms: An abnormal loss of or decrease in the ability to make and carry out commitments, speak, express or feel emotion
  • Disorganized symptoms: Confused speech and/or thinking, disconnected logic, and abnormal behavior or movements

Experts believe schizophrenia may be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, the disease’s exact etiology is unknown. There may be a link between schizophrenia and substance misuse,28 especially among teens. Specifically, research suggests that “taking mind-altering drugs during teen years and young adulthood can increase the risk of schizophrenia. A growing body of evidence indicates that smoking marijuana increases the risk of psychotic incidents and the risk of ongoing psychotic experiences. The younger and more frequent the use, the greater the risk.” Continued substance use—and especially the use of psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin—can make it difficult to diagnose schizophrenia, because the effects of these drugs can mimic its symptoms.

Treatment Options for Schizophrenia

It’s extremely important to treat schizophrenia using both pharmaceutical and behavioral modalities. These patients are commonly prescribed antipsychotic medications,29 such as Abilify or Seroquel.

Talk therapy not only helps people to manage the symptoms of schizophrenia;30 it can also “ensure that patients remain adherent to their medications.” This makes every aspect of treatment more effective in the long term. In particular, beneficial talk therapies for schizophrenic patients30 include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), supportive psychotherapy, and cognitive enhancement therapy (CET).

If a person’s symptoms are severe enough to require immediate medical attention, they are likely to require admission to a hospital or residential treatment program. According to the CDC, approximately half of all emergency room visits related to schizophrenia31 “led to either a hospital admission (32.7%) or a transfer to a psychiatric hospital (16.7%).” These patients, as well as patients who are not in crisis, may find relief through longer-term residential treatment.

Suicidal Ideation

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal ideation, get immediate help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Suicidal tendencies may be symptomatic of another diagnosis, or may appear independently. Regardless of the circumstances, suicidal ideation is an extremely serious symptom, and should be urgently treated.

Patients with this symptom may experience thoughts or fantasies of suicide, or may be actively planning to engage in self-harm. The warning signs of suicide32 include, but are not limited to the following:

  • talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
  • talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, or in unbearable pain
  • talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • talking about being a burden to others
  • increasing reckless behavior, such as substance misuse
  • withdrawing or isolating themselves, losing interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • a sudden and unexplained lift in mood, expression of a feeling of peace or tranquility
  • sudden and extreme generosity, giving away money or treasured keepsakes

Not all instances of suicidal ideation are followed by suicide attempts. In some cases, this symptom is an expression of major depression, PTSD, or another co-occurring disorder. While emergency action may or may not be necessary, it’s important to get help as soon as this symptom appears. That may mean going to therapy, starting or changing a medication, or seeking inpatient care.

Treatment Options for Suicidal Ideation

Severe symptoms of suicidal ideation require immediate care. It may be appropriate to call an ambulance, or even call the police to request an in-person wellness check. Depending on your specific location, it may be possible to have the patient temporarily hospitalized with or without their consent. During this time, they may be closely supervised by healthcare providers to ensure they do not attempt self harm.

After the immediate threat of suicide has passed, it’s important to continue with an ongoing plan of care. Patients should begin by obtaining an official diagnosis, which will help their providers design a long-term plan. Because suicidal ideation is a symptom, and not officially a mental health condition, treatments vary widely.

Remember that you deserve care. Remember: a mental health diagnosis means nothing about your willpower or your character, and healing is absolutely possible. If you’d like to learn more about treatment for these or other conditions, you can browse our list of inpatient mental health treatment centers here.

Reviewed by Rajnandini Rathod

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