How Long Should Teens Stay in Mental Health Treatment? A Study of Medicaid Data

Mental health problems affect many adolescents in the United States, and some of them may need inpatient or residential treatment to get the help they need. However, there is no clear consensus on how long these teens should stay in these facilities to achieve the best outcomes. Some experts argue that shorter stays are better, because they reduce the risk of institutionalization and disruption of family and social ties. Others claim that longer stays are necessary, because they allow more time for stabilization, assessment, and intervention.

To shed some light on this issue, a team of researchers analyzed Medicaid data from 2010 to 2014, focusing on adolescents aged 12 to 17 who were admitted to inpatient or residential mental health facilities. They wanted to find out if there was a relationship between the length of stay and the likelihood of unplanned readmissions within 30 days of discharge. Unplanned readmissions are considered a negative outcome, because they indicate that the treatment was not effective or that the transition to the community was not smooth.

The researchers found that the average length of stay for adolescents in mental health facilities was 16.7 days, but there was a lot of variation across states and types of facilities. They also found that longer stays were associated with lower rates of unplanned readmissions, after controlling for other factors such as age, gender, diagnosis, and type of facility. Specifically, they estimated that each additional day of stay reduced the odds of readmission by 2%. This suggests that longer stays may be beneficial for some adolescents who need more intensive and comprehensive care.

However, the researchers also noted that there may be other factors that influence the optimal length of stay for each individual, such as the quality and intensity of the treatment, the availability and accessibility of aftercare services, and the preferences and needs of the adolescent and their family. Therefore, they recommended that clinicians and policymakers should consider these factors when making decisions about the duration of mental health treatment for adolescents. They also suggested that more research is needed to identify the best practices and models for delivering effective and efficient care for this population.

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