In health care, short-term care may refer to brief periods of care for a variety of conditions, from a heart attack to a broken bone to the flu. Stabilization that is short-term is more specific and generally refers to care provided for patients struggling with a mental health crisis or an addictive disorder. This care is intended to treat patients immediately until they are in an appropriate state to begin long-term treatment.

Care providers for short-term stabilization care generally include all types of medical professionals, nurses and other support staff, mental health professionals, and addiction specialists. Care for these patients in the short-term may be provided in an emergency room, hospital, psychiatric hospital, or mental health or addiction rehabilitation facility.

Short-Term Stabilization is Inpatient Care

When a patient needs to be stabilized because of a mental health crisis or to detox from drugs or alcohol, that care is given an on inpatient basis. A crisis that requires stabilization cannot be done in just a few hours or be conducted while a patient goes home for the night. The kinds of situations and the health status of the patients receiving this care are very serious and require intensive care and constant monitoring. Only treatment in an inpatient facility, whether that is a center designed for rehabilitation or an emergency room, can provide the appropriate care.

Mental Health Crises and Short-Term Stabilization

Most people with a mental illness don’t need short-term stabilization because they have minor or moderate symptoms or because they have their symptoms under control with regular treatment. However, anyone with a mental illness may reach a crisis situation that requires intensive care. The following are symptoms or situations that may be considered a crisis and that may require professional intervention and short-term stabilization:

  • Psychosis, which is a break with reality that can cause hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and detachment.
  • Nervous breakdown, which although not an official mental health diagnosis is a real and serious state in which a person has lost the ability to function normally due to excess stress.
  • Suicidal behaviors, like planning for suicide, telling others about plans, or engaging in serious self-harm.
  • Violent and aggressive outbursts, being a threat to others.
  • Extreme isolation, alone or in combination with loss of function.
  • Catatonia, a state of complete lethargy, lack of movement, no speech, and no response to others or stimuli.

Anyone who sees a friend or family member in a mental health state that seems like an emergency or crisis should not hesitate to seek help. This may mean calling the person’s doctor or therapist, or calling for emergency medical assistance. Reaching out for help will get the affected person the needed short-term care for stabilization.

Other Types of Mental Health Stabilization

In some cases a person struggling with mental health issues may not have an acute crisis situation, but still may need short-term care to be stabilized. For instance, someone struggling with a severe bout of depression and whose medications are no longer working can benefit from short-term intensive care that leads to changes in long-term care. Another example is a person struggling with an eating disorder. Short-term stabilization can ensure the patient gets adequate nutrition and medical care so that long-term mental health care can begin.

Short-Term Stabilization for Addiction

For people who struggle with addictive disorders, short-term stabilization is an important step in the recovery process. This type of care may be initiated during a crisis, such as an overdose or a mental health crisis, like psychosis, triggered by drug use or drinking. Alternatively, short-term care may result after many months or years of addictive behaviors or after an intervention by family and friends. Short-term care may be something the patient seeks out as well, without input from loved ones. This kind of care for addictive disorders helps patients detoxify and get ready for a long path to recovery through various types of treatment.

Care Provided During Short-Term Stabilization

The exact type of care provided for a patient during short-term stabilization depends on each individual and the needs of the patient. For mental health crises, medication is commonly used to stabilize the patient, for instance. Antipsychotic medications, sedatives, and anti-anxiety medications can help to stabilize someone who is experiencing psychosis, extreme agitation, or general dysfunction because of mental health issues.

For addiction patients, short-term care is usually focused on detox. This is the natural process of letting the body eliminate the drug or alcohol the patient has been using. It can be a painful process because of withdrawal symptoms, and doing it under the supervision of care specialists is the safest way to detox. Medications may be used for these patients.

In both types of short-term stabilization, patients receive the mental health care they need, but also any necessary medical care. Mental health crises and substance abuse can take a toll on the body, causing a variety of symptoms. Medical care in these situations is focused on stabilizing the patient’s physical health so that it will be safe for them to leave short-term care and move on to more long-term care. Short-term care should also include evaluation by a mental health professional and appropriate diagnosis for making decisions about follow up care.

Facilities Providing Short-Term Stabilization

Patients may receive short-term stabilization care at one of any number of types of facilities, depending on the situation and the patient’s needs. In extreme cases, in which the patient needs emergency care, the short-term care is likely to be given in an emergency room, possibly at a psychiatric hospital if there is one nearby. Residential facilities that focus on mental health care or addictive disorders are also locations that provide this kind of short-term care. Most such facilities have dedicated units with a certain number of beds to provide stabilization for patients for a few days at a time.

Follow up and After Care

Short-term stabilization is an important type of care, but it is not the end of treatment for someone who has gone through a mental health crisis or who is trying to recover from addiction. Both mental illnesses and addictive disorders are chronic conditions that require long-term care. After stabilization a patient may receive care at a residential facility or on an outpatient basis. That care may include psychotherapy, group therapy, alternative therapies, group support, medications, and self-care and home management.

If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health issue or an addiction, you may need access to short-term care stabilization. It is best to seek care before the situation becomes a crisis, but if you do need this kind of care, expect to be treated by professionals and specialists in mental health and addiction. Careful and specialized care is crucial for helping patients get stable and prepared for ongoing care.