Committed Youth

Why are so many teens being locked up in private mental hospitals?

by Nina Darnton
Newsweek Magazine
July 31, 1989

…Difficult, disruptive, disobedient adolescents—kids who once might have been sent to military schools or even juvenile detention centers—are now being locked up in mental hospitals. Overall, inpatient hospitalization for children under 18 has increased from 82,000 in 1980 to more than 12,000 in 1986, the last year for which statistics are available. Most of that increase was in admissions to private hospitals; roughly 43,000 children were admitted to free-standing private psychiatric hospitals in 1986, compared to 17,000 in 1980 and 6,452 in 1970.

… Too often the system is flawed. Ira Schwartz and a colleague, Jeffrey Butts, recently reviewed the discharge diagnoses of 20,300 young people nationally in over 1,000 hospitals. Their report claims that about two thirds of the children were hospitalized for relatively minor personality disorders and nonaddictive drug use. Nearly 4,000 (about 19 percent) were diagnosed as “adolescent adjustment reactions,” which is, by medical definition, a minor and transitory disturbance.