The St. Louis Children's Hospital Behavioral Health Unit is a bright, open space with 14 beds for kids between the ages of 5 and 17. From calming art on the walls to safety features that help prevent self-harm, every aspect of the unit is designed for the comfort and safety of kids experiencing mental health crises. Here's what you can expect during your child's stay:

Length of Stay

Most kids stay on the unit for five to seven days. Your child may stay for more or less time, depending on their needs. Our goal is to stabilize their mental health crisis as quickly as we can and help them transition back home.

Care Team

You and your child will have access to a large team of specialists, including the following: 

  • Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners, who evaluate your child's condition and direct their treatment plan. 
  • Art therapist, who uses the creative process of artmaking to improve kids’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.
  • Music therapist, who uses music to address kids’ physical, emotional, social and cognitive needs, and accomplish personalized goals.
  • Recreational therapist, who uses a variety of activities, from dancing to playing games, to enhance kids’ health and well-being.
  • Occupational therapists, who help kids overcome difficulties with day-to-day tasks and situations.
  • Social workers, who offer group and individual counseling, and help connect your family with resources in the community.
  • Dedicated nurses trained to help kids with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions.
  • Mental health coaches, who help keep kids safe, teach them coping skills and ensure that they have what they need. 
  • Behavior analyst, who specializes in identifying where specific behaviors come from, and how to change them.

Approach to Care

The care we offer is based on research about the most effective ways to stabilize mental health crises and prevent them in the future.

In addition, our team members are trained in de-escalation techniques. That means they have the skills to resolve behavioral issues verbally to reduce the use of physical safety strategies such as restraining or isolating patients.

A Typical Day on the Unit

Kids on the unit are usually occupied from the time they get up until the time they go to bed. This helps them develop their ability to cope with day-to-day situations, other people and their own emotions. A typical day may include the following:

  • Classes to learn coping skills. For part of the day, kids are split into groups based on their age and specific needs. Members of the care team work with each group to teach them coping skills. These might include strategies for self-calming, dealing with difficult or confusing emotions, or finding alternatives to self-harm.
  • Quiet time. For kids who need to practice skills alone, the unit has a special room where they can be by themselves in a quiet, dim environment.
  • Counseling and other provider visits. Kids on the unit may have group or one-on-one counseling with a social worker. They'll also see other providers from their Behavioral Health Unit care team as needed.
  • Expressive therapies, such as art or music therapy. 
  • Other therapeutic activities.  Each day, kids can participate in activities designed to resemble what they might do at home. These include recreation t therapy, dancing and other movement-based activities, and even watching movies with other kids.
  • Group meals. Kids on the unit eat their meals together. The food comes from the hospital cafeteria, and they can order what they want each day.

Visiting Hours

Visiting hours occur at two designated periods every day. The specific times sometimes change depending on your child's schedule. We'll go over current visiting times when your child is admitted.

You're also welcome to attend certain coping skills classes, so that you can help your child continue developing those skills once they're home.

Family Updates and Meetings

We'll call or message you at least once a day to keep you posted on your child's progress. We’ll also organize meetings with your child’s care team, as necessary. You are an essential part of your child’s care team, and we welcome any feedback or questions you have. 

What Comes Next

Before your child leaves, we'll work with you, your child, as well as your child’s doctor, home therapy team, and school to develop a plan for what comes next. This plan will be customized to your child's needs. It might include a combination of outpatient therapy, medications or other treatments. 

Our social workers will help identify community resources that might benefit you and your child going forward. We’ll make sure you know who to call if you or your child ever need additional resources or help.