What Is Inpatient Vs. Outpatient Treatment? Which One Do I Need?


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With everything that you endure on a daily basis, from feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork to maintaining a healthy social life, it makes sense that your mental health can struggle from time to time. But when your mental health distress or disorder symptoms start to interfere with your everyday life, it’s time to prioritize your mental well-being. 

When you’re ready to take the next step in your mental health journey, it can be difficult to determine the best course of action. During your research, you probably keep seeing the terms “inpatient treatment” and “outpatient treatment.” But what’s the difference? What is the best option for you? Those are the questions that we’re here to answer.

The basics of inpatient vs. outpatient treatment

Mental health treatment comes in multiple levels of care: inpatient, outpatient and residential treatment. The goal of each one is the same, which is to help alleviate mental health distress and disorder symptoms to reduce their impact on your mental, emotional and behavioral wellness. 

Let’s start off by discussing the basic definitions of each one.

  • Inpatient treatment — Mental health care that’s provided in a psychiatric hospital, or the psychiatric unit in a hospital, is known as inpatient treatment. It’s the most intensive level of care for individuals in a mental health crisis who are at risk to themselves or others. It includes overnight stays and involves both mental and medical care.
  • Intensive outpatient treatment — If you need mental health treatment but don’t require overnight supervision, it’s known as intensive outpatient treatment. It includes any treatment from a mental health care provider in a clinical, office or partially hospitalized setting. You essentially go home each night after receiving your treatment. It often centers on talk therapy and medication.
  • Residential treatment – If you’re looking for overnight care and supervision in a home-like environment, then a residential treatment center may be the right fit for you. It provides 24/7 care in a safe space that allows you to focus solely on improving your mental health. Treatment includes a variety of therapy dynamics, including individual, group and family sessions.

The benefits of inpatient vs. outpatient treatment

Both inpatient and outpatient treatment can play a vital role in your mental health journey. But they each serve different purposes. Inpatient treatment is intensive short-term care. It’s meant for individuals who need immediate help for severe mental health distress and disorder symptoms. Outpatient treatment is in it for the long term. It helps you to manage your symptoms and gain the skills you need to have a happier and healthier future.

Let’s break down the benefits of inpatient vs. outpatient treatment:

The benefits of inpatient mental health care treatment include:

  • 24/7 controlled environment to focus solely on your mental health
  • Removal of potential triggers and dangerous objects
  • Access to treatments that aren’t available through outpatient
  • Gaining a support system with others who can relate to your struggles

The benefits of outpatient mental health care treatment include:

  • Allows balance of mental health care and daily responsibilities
  • Development of lifelong communication skills and coping mechanisms
  • Working with a therapist through everyday issues that impact your mental health

What level of care do you need?

While both inpatient and outpatient mental health treatment can help alleviate your distress and disorder symptoms, they comprise different levels of care.

If you’re in a mental health crisis where you’re in danger to yourself or others, you should be admitted into inpatient treatment for immediate care. Inpatient care can be especially helpful for people who are self-harming or having suicidal thoughts. You can also call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988 for immediate support. 

If your mental health doesn’t require emergency care but it’s still interfering with your overall quality of life, then outpatient or residential treatment is what you’re looking for. They can provide you with the long-term tools you need to manage your symptoms on a daily basis, form healthy relationships and increase your self-esteem.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can determine what level of care you need

Determining that you need treatment is already a big step in your mental health journey, but everyone has different needs. Whether you’re looking for inpatient or outpatient treatment, your mental health should always be a priority. 

At Lightfully, we have multiple levels of care that can help alleviate your mental health distress and disorder symptoms, including: Residential Treatment, Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program.

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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