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Why Do People Discharge Early From Mental Health Treatment?

Understanding the Process of Discharging

For people experiencing mental health crises, a residential treatment center may be the best option for rehabilitation and care. Residential treatment centers allow you to remove yourself from the stresses and pressures of the outside world and focus solely on healing. Still, some people choose to discharge from mental health services before it’s recommended, making themselves more prone to readmittance. 

Understanding the Process of Discharging

Your mental health care team begins thinking about, and possibly creating, your discharge plan upon your arrival. Once you’ve established your treatment goals, they begin using their expert knowledge to determine what success after your residential treatment will look like and entail. 

Your discharge plan will include things like follow-up appointments, referrals, and the types of care the team advises moving forward. The plan is a guide to help you continue the work you started in the treatment center. Its goal is to help you continue your recovery and healing. 

A key element of discharge practices is preparing a person to be independent and empowering them with tools for recovery. Transitioning from a treatment center back to day-to-day life isn’t easy. Careful, comprehensive planning will make the transition easier while maintaining your progress. A discharge checklist is useful for ensuring you have all the support and care needed for successful recovery. 

Your discharge plan can’t really pick up where residential treatment left off if you choose to leave treatment early. Clients who receive a discharge summary and attend follow-up appointments are less likely to be readmitted. Providing the right resources and instructions helps clients manage their condition and know how to respond if their condition worsens. 

Unfortunately, the opposite also is true. Clients who discharge against their treatment team’s advice are more likely to be readmitted and may even experience their condition worsening instead of improving.

“The time a client is advised to stay in residential treatment isn’t arbitrary. A trained mental health professional creates the timeline with an understanding of the clients needs and concerns and expertise regarding the mental health issues they’re experiencing,” said Dr. Julie Eberwein, Executive Director at Integrative Life Center. “Because of this careful, expert-based planning, it’s ill advised to leave treatment before completing it.”

Reasons People Discharge from Mental Health Services

Discharging from mental health services happens for various reasons. Some people leave because they feel better and don’t think they need to be in treatment any longer. Other people may discharge early because they aren’t ready to face their mental health issues or admit to having a problem like addiction.

“It’s wonderful that people start feeling dramatically better during the course of treatment, and it makes sense that they might want to return to their regular lives when they start feeling this way,” Dr. Eberwein said. “Unfortunately, a treatment center isn’t the same as the outside world. Treatment is meant to help prepare that person for the stressors of daily life, which will be much different from those in treatment.”

Planned Discharge

If a client and therapist feel satisfied with improvement and that the treatment achieved what it set out to do, a client may discharge from a mental health treatment center. This departure may be sooner than expected, but it’s typically on schedule. The mental health professionals at the center are experts in the various programs they offer and people’s individual mental health needs. They typically have a firm idea of how long an individual needs to be there, and leaving early is usually a bad decision.

Unplanned Discharge 

Extenuating circumstances may cause a patient to discharge before their plan suggests. These happenings may include:

  • Disagreement regarding care
  • Missing family and friends
  • Struggling with the difficulty of treatment or withdrawal
  • Trouble coping with the severity of their illness
  • Unaffordable to continue
  • The service provider is not a good fit
  • A family emergency

If a client discharges before they are determined fit to do so, it’s advised that they transition to another healthcare provider or facility that can be responsible for their care. Leaving a center before completing treatment has risks. It can be dangerous for clients to return to daily life if they haven’t yet reached a stable state of recovery. Healthcare providers should assess the client’s health as best they can and determine achievable next steps.

“The most important thing is that the person gets the help they need,” Dr. Eberwein stated. “Sometimes there are factors outside of their control that make them need to leave residential treatment early, but that doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t still get the help they need.”

When is the Right Time to Discharge?

The client should feel prepared and ready to leave the facility when sufficient treatment is completed. They should feel equipped with the resources and procedures in place to aid in their recovery.

When a client discharges early against medical advice (AMA), they are often met with difficult consequences. Without the time to implement skills for reentry to daily life, they are more likely to be readmitted or relapse. They may experience more frequent extended stays, which can be more expensive and disruptive than one continuous extended stay. 

Reasons to discharge at the scheduled time include:

  • To Avoid Readmittance. Readmittance can be stressful, risky, and costly. The client should be ready to continue their own healing journey with regular therapy or group meetings. 
  • Improved Condition. Your treatment time is determined based on your individual needs. Checking out of treatment early means missing out on opportunities to learn new skills and continue improving your condition.

“The right time to discharge is when you and your team agree that you’ve accomplished the goals you set out for residential treatment and you can transition into outpatient treatment,” Dr. Eberwein said.

Planning the Treatment You Need

Deciding on a level of care is an important step for someone dealing with mental health issues. If you decide on residential mental health treatment, it’s best for your recovery and healing if you stay and continue treatment for the recommended time. ILC offers inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment options, as well as transitional care after leaving residential treatment. Contact us to learn more about treatment options with ILC.

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