Researcher Believes Teens Placed in Psychiatric Hospitals Too Often

by Emil Venere of Cox News Service
Daytona Beach News Journal
August 30, 1989

Mesa, Arizona — More teenagers than ever are being admitted to psychiatric hospitals, and much of the treamtent is unnecessary and based primarily on economics, critics say.

“I would not be surprised if at least half of the children who are hospitalized could be handled very adequately in other community-based and out-patient type programs, said Ira Schwartz, a professor of social work and director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Youth Policy.

Admissions to private psychiatric hospitals nationwide for patients under the age of 18 increased from 7,668 in 1971, to 48,480 in 1983, to 99,240 in 1985, according to figures from the National Institute of Mental Health. Admissions to psychiatric wards in general hospitals jumped from 46,065 in 1971 to 122,824 in 1985, the last year for which figures on all types of hospitals are available, Schwartz said.

“I think that if the true figures were known, if we had them, they would be much higher,” he said. Schwartz and a graduate student Jeffrey Butts studied 20,000 patient records for youngsters aged 6 to 17 who were admitted to psychiatric wards of general hospitals in 1987.

“Essentially what we found was that, first of all, about two-thirds of the admissions are there for disorders that would be considered to be relatively non-serious,” Schwartz said. “That was kind of surprising. We thought there would be a higher proportion of people there for serious things.

“The kids can be admitted under diagnostic labels that are extremely vague and not scientifically based.” For example, many youths were admitted to hospitals for diagnoses of “emotional disturbance,” and “conduct disorder” and “adjustment reaction” and “non-dependent use of drugs and alcohol,” he said.

He also criticized what he referred to as the prison-like structure some hospitals use to control teenagers being treated for drug, alcohol or behavioral problems. The programs define when a person eats, sleeps and has recreation in a lock-down environment.

Dan Kirkpatrick, group administator for Charter Hospitals in Arizona, disagreed with Schwartz, saying youngsters sometimes have family environments that are unssuitable for recovery from behavioral, drug or alcohol problems.

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Daytona Beach News-Journal