What’s a Psychiatric Bed?

Psychiatric beds are hospital beds specifically reserved for in-patients with various mental health issues. The hospital environment is different in psychiatric units and the staff is specially trained to work with people who are experiencing a mental health crisis to ensure that all patients are safe. In recent years, there has been a significant reduction in the number of available psychiatric beds. This means there are fewer available beds for people who need psychiatric care. Some of the reductions in available beds are due to state hospital closings or loss of funding.

Reduced Access to Psychiatric Care

As a result of reduced access to psychiatric care, people with mental illnesses are not able to receive the treatment they need. They are not able to see therapists, receive medication or other treatments, and many times end up in dangerous situations. From 1955 to 2005, the number of public psychiatric beds dropped by 95%. It has become difficult to find beds for people with mental illnesses in hospitals and even more difficult to be admitted, if one is found.

It is estimated that 26% of Americans (approximately 57.7 million people) have a mental illness and 6% of Americans are considered severely mentally ill. While not everyone with a mental illness needs to be hospitalized, it is important to recognize that mental illnesses are common. In comparison, 50 years ago there was only one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans and, now, there is just one psychiatric bed for every 3,000 Americans. To put this into perspective, of the 3,000 Americans, approximately 180 of those people have a severe mental illness. Theoretically, this would mean 180 people suffering from mental illness would need to share a single bed if hospitalized.

To look at it another way, there are about 324 million people in the United States. This means that there is one psychiatric bed for every 108,000 people. To make matters worse, most psychiatric beds are not accessible to the public because they are reserved for forensic cases, or people who are court-ordered to be hospitalized.

So what happens to all of these people who are suffering from a mental illnesses? Not all mental illnesses require hospitalization, as many people are able to go about their daily life, however, there are many that cannot and end up homeless or in jail. In 2005, it was concluded that there were three times the amount of mentally ill people in jail than in hospitals, where they would be able to receive treatments. In jails, anywhere from 7% to 20% of all inmates have a severe mental illness.

There are about 500,000 homeless Americans at any given time. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, about 25% of the homeless have a severe mental illness. In some states, studies have found that up to 36% of the homeless population have a severe mental illness. A quarter to a third of the homeless population has a severe mental illness, as opposed to 6% of the general population with a mental illness.

For people suffering from a severe mental illness, life can be difficult. They are often unable to receive proper treatment. Those who want to receive treatment or need immediate help often end up overcrowding emergency rooms due to the lack of psychiatric beds.

What is Telepsychiatry?

Telepsychiatry is the use of videoconferencing as a more accessible means of providing psychiatric care. It can be done at hospitals, or other medical facilities, or even in a patient’s home. Often, a medical professional is on site to oversee a videoconference session. It is used to ensure that more people have access to psychiatric care and make it easier for people to get help.

How Can Telespychiatry Help?

Telepsychiatry can be done in a variety of places, at any time. From inmates to students in college to senior citizens, telepsychiatry can help those who are not able to access a doctor or have trouble affording health care. With telepsychiatry, there is no need to travel long distances to a medical office. It can reduce the cost of appointments because doctors are able to see more patients in a day.

Those who need treatment have a difficult time getting admitted to a hospital and are often discharged without a treatment plan before they are stabilized in order to increase turnaround rates. Telepsychiatry can be a beneficial part of an individual’s treatment plan and hopefully reduce the rate of hospital re-admittance. Not all hospitals have mental health units and telepsychiatry may help some hospitals broaden their patient base by allowing them to treat individuals going through a mental health crisis.

With the rising number of inmates in jail with mental illnesses, telepsychiatry may help stabilize inmates and create treatment plans for them, both while they are incarcerated and for when they are released. Also, telepsychiatry may help to reduce the number of people who are arrested again after they are released.

When young adults go away to college, many experience hardships that can lead to issues with their mental health. The end of adolescence and beginning of adulthood is a time when many severe mental illnesses appear. Perhaps telepsychiatry could be used to determine if an illness is chronic or if a student needs to seek additional treatments or medication.

Residents in a senior citizen community may have trouble getting around or experience financial issues. Telepsychiatry could be used to increase their quality of life by making help more accessible.

Telepsychiatry is a rapidly growing approach that is enabling people to access mental health care and receive necessary treatments that they may not otherwise have been able to obtain treatment. Telepsychiatry can help alleviate the burden of travel to visit a doctor and reduce financial strain. It can be used in places, such as hospitals and prisons, where traditional psychiatric help may be limited. Although telepsychiatry is a relatively new idea, it is a revolutionary one that can change the way mental health care is provided.


Glossary of statistical terms: Psychiatric care beds. (2001, November 20). Retrieved from OECD website: https://stats.oecd.org/glossary/detail.asp?ID=2189

Mental illness statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Kim Foundation website: http://www.thekimfoundation.org/html/about_mental_ill/statistics.html

No room at the inn: Trends and consequences of closing public psychiatric hospitals. (n.d.). Retrieved from Treatment Advocacy Center website: http://tacreports.org/bed-study

Psychiatric hospital bed shortages “beyond disastrous” in 2016. (n.d.). Retrieved from Treatment Advocacy Center website: http://www.treatmentadvocacycenter.org/home-page/71-featured-articles/3084-psychiatric-hospital-bed-shortages-qbeyond-disastrousq-in-2016-

Torrey, E. F., Kennard, A. D., Eslinger, D., Lamb, R., & Pavle, J. (2010, May). More mentally ill persons are in jails and prisons than hospitals: A survey of the states. Retrieved from Treatment Advocacy Center website: http://tacreports.org/storage/documents/2010-jail-study.pdf

What is telepsychiatry. (n.d.). Retrieved from Insight Telepsychiatry website: http://insighttelepsychiatry.com/partners/learn/what-is-telepsychiatry/


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