Officials: Too Many Teens In Psychiatric Hospitals

Posted: September 01, 1987

NEW YORK — There has been an estimated 400 percent increase in the number of teenagers admitted to psychiatric institutions during the last five years and the rise probably is due to aggressive marketing by private hospitals, researchers said yesterday.

Many of the teenagers suffer from minor psychiatric problems and are needlessly hospitalized when they could be treated more quickly, less expensively and at least as effectively outside the hospital, the researchers said.

Studies have shown the vast majority of institutionalized 13- to 18-year- olds have mild psychiatric disorders diagnosed after they ran away from home, took drugs, caused trouble at school or threatened to kill themselves, said Rodney Lowman, a psychologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.

Hospitalization can be harmful, leading patients and their families to become dependent upon the hospital's artificial support network rather than to resolve difficulties in the family, Lowman said at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

Steven Gutstein, a psychologist and the director of the Houston Child Guidance Center, estimated that the average cost of a single episode of hospitalization in a private psychiatric hospital in Houston is $40,000.

Equivalent care given through his center, which does not require hospitalization, costs an average of $3,200, less than one-tenth of the cost of hospital care, Gutstein said.

In response, Robert Thomas, executive director of the National Association of Private Psychiatric Hospitals, said the increase in the hospitalization of children and adolescents "has been the major growth of the hospital industry over the past five years." But, he said in a telephone interview, the incidence of mental disorders has increased, too.

"There's been an increase in the use of drugs and alcohol," he said. ''Suicide is way up, too."

Lowman and Gutstein said some seriously disturbed children and adolescents do need to be hospitalized.

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