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Beacon Senior News

What you need to know about mental health care

Apr 26, 2021 03:04PM ● By Amy Abbott
Older woman sitting on edge of couch, holding face in both hands

One in five Americans will experience a mental illness in any given year, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). 

Seniors are no exception. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, anxiety, depression and mood disorders are most common in the over-55 age group. Sometimes this means you or a relative facing admission to a psychiatric or mental health facility.


What to expect

If a medical professional recommends mental health treatment for you or your family member, what can you expect? Likely, you’ll be referred for one of four kinds of treatment: inpatient care, partial hospitalization, outpatient care or private therapy. 

The level of care needed for a patient is determined by a licensed clinical social worker who does a clinical assessment. The assessment is reviewed by a physician or nurse practitioner, and a recommendation is made for the patient. Most assessments cost nothing, but you may want to confirm there’s no fee or that your insurance covers the assessment fee. An assessment can last up to two hours and covers issues of current and past mental health status, along with relevant medical and family issues.

Some facilities are limited in which insurance they can take. However, patients who are in danger of harming themselves or others must be accepted. The Emergency Medical Labor and Treatment Act, passed in 1986, requires that psychiatric and other hospitals accept patients in emergency situations, regardless of their ability to pay.

For standard admission, know your insurance status for a hospital stay, so there are no surprises on the back end. On average, inpatient care can run hundreds of dollars per day, and the average length of stay in inpatient mental health facilities is five to seven days. Some facilities require that a patient’s insurance deductible be satisfied before admission. (Most communities support community mental health centers that offer care on a sliding scale of fees.)

Inpatient care: If you or your loved one are admitted to an inpatient facility, the admission process involves a search for contraband. While most patients in a psychiatric unit will not be inclined to violence as portrayed in the movies, anything that could be considered a weapon is not allowed, even something as small as nail scissors. 

Once on the unit, patients participate in daily activities, which include group therapy, exercise and recreation, and discussion with a psychiatric nurse practitioner or psychiatrist. Individual therapy is no longer the focus of most psychiatric facilities, and groups are led by licensed clinical social workers. A team of mental health professionals will monitor your progress and work with you and your family on continued treatment.

Patients are allowed visitors on limited hours. Most facilities do not offer private rooms because sharing space with another person is considered part of therapy.

Some facilities offer specialized programs for seniors. However, there’s a difference between patients with dementia and those with mental illness. Dementia patients generally will not improve, while patients with mental illness can make great progress with the right treatment. Patients with dementia are sometimes admitted for an evaluation of their medication.


Post-hospital options

You may be offered one of three options upon discharge: partial hospitalization, outpatient treatment or private therapy.

Partial hospitalization is a day program that mirrors inpatient programming but without the overnight stay. Patients arrive in the morning and have five or six hours of therapy, eating lunch in the facility. Many psychiatric facilities offer day programs on various schedules. Transportation may be available from your home or a nearby pick-up point.

Outpatient treatment: There are multiple outpatient programs offered in most communities, from those offered by traditional inpatient hospitals to counselors hosting office therapy groups. These groups generally meet for several hours in the morning, afternoon or evening, three days a week. Outpatient groups may have up to 10 participants.

Private therapy with a counselor. Most psychiatrists today only offer medication management, so you may see your psychiatrist only periodically. Counseling sessions can be as frequently as twice or week or as little as once a month, depending on one’s diagnosis and personal need.


Western Slope Mental Health Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hosts weekly support groups in both Mesa and Montrose Counties, offering free, confidential support for those living with mental health challenges and their families:

- 4th Tuesday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Fruita. 303-349-2934
- 3rd Wednesday at PIC Place, Montrose. 520-282-9060


For more information, call:

• NAMI, Western Slope
   985-8591

• Colorado Crisis Services is available 24/7
   844-493-TALK (8255)

• NAMI Crisis Text Line
   Text NAMI to 741741