The Parent Knows Best – Why I Resisted a Mental Health Hospitalization for My Son

Three long days at home. Unfortunately, the darkness in my son’s mind showed no signs of abating. The lows intensified. Eventually they took over – leaving him stuck in a severely depressive state.

As the Easter sunrise appeared on the horizon, I hoped for light. darkness-to-light

When none came to my son, the truth confronted me once again. Mental illness is real. It doesn’t take a holiday. 

Within moments, family plans were put on hold. As I’ve learned from past crises, too many expectations can send him over the edge.

He will react without thinking.

He will find a way to inflict self-harm.

Although his past attempts have been more an act of seeking attention than ending his life, the difference between the two can be negligible – tragically slim. Without question, my son was a danger to himself on this given morning.

The piece of broken glass a dangerous sign.

The marks on his arm an indication of more to come.

With his long history of cutting and two rounds of stitches – coupled with his unstable frame of mind, my son would have qualified for admission to a hospital psychiatric unit. 


Yet, I chose not to go that route. This time my son would stay at home.

Years ago I was naïve in my understanding of the in-patient mental health experience. I expected his symptoms to be manageable upon discharge.  But more-often-than-not after a dozen stays, he returned home in worse shape than he entered. In fact, my son learned about cutting from another patient during one of his stays.

Not what I expected.

Not what I was told.

No doubt, treating mental health remains a puzzle – in spite of advancements in brain research. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Trial and error – tempered with tons of patience – remains a fact of life.

And the admitting process is long. We would spend three to five hours in the emergency room – longer if the psychiatrist on-call is swamped.  Longer yet if a mental health bed is not available.

While the wait would be exhausting for me, it would become overwhelming for my son. Fear of the unknown will do that to an individual who’s already paranoid. And the result isn’t pleasant. More than once the ER staff made no effort to de-escalate his behavior and forced him into restraints. 

out of the darkness

Does traumatizing a child – especially one with a history of early trauma – ever make sense?

A huge barrier to positive in-patient outcomes is communication – or lack thereof. Not once during earlier stays was our regular psychiatrist consulted – even though I relayed the information. Without a meaningful dialogue about a complex mental health condition, how could hospital doctors properly diagnosis, adjust psychotropic medication or suggest treatment?  Additionally, most make no effort to contact the parents, unless they jump through multiple hoops and demand a phone call.

I know because I’ve tried.

Occasionally the on-site social worker spoke with our mental health therapist. Rather than ensuring a continuity of care, the purpose was little more than confirming a follow-up appointment.

Wouldn’t a collaborative approach – involving all concerned parties – benefit my son?

Or is blaming the parent easier? And I don’t get me started on the possibility of triangulation while the child is away from home.

Frankly, staff members would know very little about my son. In the past they seldom read his medical history. Then some are too lenient with him – hosting a stay-cation rather than focusing on treatment. Others offer little compassion which increases his sense of isolation. 


With an abundance of mixed messages, the boundaries change from shift to shift.

No wonder his outcomes have been questionable.

At an average cost of $5700, a week-long stay can amount to little more than highly expensive childcare – with state Medicaid programs the largest payer.

Furthermore, another hospitalization would disrupt my son’s routine – which is far more important than the mental health community will admit.  And it places him in the hands of strangers, rather than his family. 

special olympics license plate

Without question, I made the right choice in keeping him home. I understand the risks.

After all, I know him better than anyone.

And with the help of two loving brothers, his needs will be met with genuine commitment – even as he tries to push them away. Two days after making my decision, they succeeded and had him laughing – which is always a positive sign. 

More often than not with mental health, time can be a great healer.

If I don’t over-react.

If I remain patient.

If I consult with our medical providers.

If I listen to my son without enabling.

If I stay connected to his immediate needs.

Most importantly, my son and I will solidify trust by staying home – boosting the long-term relationship that is imperative to his overall care.

Maybe someday mental health providers will understand the dilemma that confronts thousands of parents each year. They could accomplish amazing things at home rather than hospital – by providing high-quality home-based professional staff, especially for children with a history of psychiatric hospitalizations.

And saving millions of health care dollars in the process.

Let’s rethink the in-patient experience.

Let’s meet the needs of families.

Let’s help children heal.   DCP


Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s progress in writing a book about raising his six children with special needs, click here: Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow his son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page.Andrew Peterson Goes for the Gold

3 thoughts on “The Parent Knows Best – Why I Resisted a Mental Health Hospitalization for My Son

  1. Thank you for this post. It affirms what I have felt as I have resisted calling in outside help in emergencies. It’s all too easy for the doctor to say you need to do this, it will be hard, it will be traumatic….but from my experience with a sister with mental illness I know it isn’t helpful. Finding ways to keep them safe at home, that’s what’s helpful…but also hard at times.

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