Upstate Hospital Opening Inpatient Mental Health Unit for Teens

By Payne Horning

More people killed themselves in 2017 than killed others: 47,173 suicides in 2017 compared to 19,510 homicides, according to figures from the Centers of Disease Control (CDC).

The problem is even more acute with younger generations.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for those aged 10-34. And it’s getting worse. Data from the CDC shows that the suicide rate overall has increased by 31 percent since 2001.

In response, Upstate University Hospital is opening an eight-bed inpatient unit to offer mental health services for adolescents in crisis. A staff comprised of child and adolescent psychiatrists, nurses, mental health therapists, and others will provide around-the-clock care for patients aged 12-17. The goal is intervention and stabilization for those with suicidal or self-destructive tendencies.

Physician Joseph Biedrzycki, medical director of the Upstate adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit, says this unit is opening at a time in which Central New York, like much of the nation, is experiencing a shortage of mental healthcare providers, especially child psychiatrists.

“Access to care can be a big barrier because sometimes it can take several months to get connected with a psychiatrist or someone who can prescribe medication that for some conditions are really an essential part of the treatment,” Biedrzycki said. “There’s a younger population of children that need an inpatient facility to address their needs.”

This unit is designed to do just that. It will cater to patients who have unsuccessfully attempted suicide or those who are expressing suicidal thoughts. However, Biedrzycki says who is referred to their program will depend on whether they are good fit for the particular treatment that will be offered, called DBT: dialectical behavioral therapy. It’s a specialized program for those suffering from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and injurious behaviors. The objective with DBT, says Biedrzycki, is to help patients better cope and regulate their emotions.

The entire staff working in the unit have been trained in DBT, part of Upstate’s comprehensive approach. Patients won’t just be treated by psychiatrists, they will also interact with nurse practitioners, social workers, clinical social workers, psychologists, and even a school teacher.

“We have an excellent staff who are very caring and have a good understanding of what needs to be done to provide a supportive environment,” he said.

Attention to detail was key when Upstate designed the $3.8 million eight-bed unit. According to Biedrzycki, they eliminated as many methods and means for patients to intentionally harm themselves as possible. Additionally, each patient will have private rooms and bathrooms complete with comforting features like muted lighting, music, and weighted blankets. Staff wanted to create a welcoming environment so patients don’t feel like they are being institutionalized.

Upstate expects the average stay in the unit will be no more than a week. Once a patient is discharged, they will be connected with child and adolescent mental health resources in the community.

Central New York medical and government officials are praising the creation of this new unit at Upstate, but many say this is just one piece of the puzzle to address the mental health epidemic. More medical professionals and resources are needed.

“The unit is a small step in addressing a critical need here in Central New York for mental health services for our youth,” said in a press release Upstate Interim President Mantosh Dewan, a psychiatrist by training. “Our commitment to this pressing need does not end with this unit’s opening. Upstate will continue to be part of the community discussion moving this important issue forward with great urgency.”