Maryland’s first trauma-informed psychiatric unit for children and teens experiencing mental health crises opened this week at the University of Maryland Children’s Hospital (UMCH) in Baltimore. The 16-bed inpatient unit, a therapeutic environment featuring curved walls and nature themes, is designed to be safe space for patients ages 5-17 who may have experienced traumatic events, such as abuse, neglect or violence.
At a time when the mental health crisis among youth is rising — the Centers for Disease Control reports a significant increase in children’s mental health-related emergency department visits in 2020 compared to 2019 — the Children & Adolescent Psychiatric Unit provides care for young patients dealing with trauma disorders, psychotic spectrum disorders, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, co-morbid neurodevelopmental disorders and attention deficit hyperactive disorder.
“The new unit is designed to provide crisis stabilization, respite and recovery for our most vulnerable patients — children and adolescents — and to instill hope that life will get better,” said Dr. Sarah Edwards, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at University of Maryland Medical Center and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, in a recent statement.
Soothing colors, natural light and nature wall mural by local artist Annie Howe create an environment that feels inviting rather than institutional. Large hallways and toy-filled common spaces encourage socialization, while private alcoves and a quiet room offer patients a calming respite. In their room, patients play nature sounds and music by adjusting a switch on the wall.
The unit is also designed to maximize staff and patient interaction; administrative workspaces are separate from treatment areas. When patients are discharged, UMCH will continue to provide families with school transition specialists who can connect them with services and peer support.
“The attention given to every detail of the new Children & Adolescent Psychiatric Unit is exceptional —from the design to staffing to implementation of an evidence-based recovery model of care,” said Dr. E. Albert Reece, executive vice president for medical affairs at University of Maryland, Baltimore, and dean of the University of the Maryland School of Medicine, in a press release. “We expect that the unit will quickly make a meaningful improvement on the mental health and wellbeing of Baltimore and Maryland youth.”