The Stephens Unit: A closer look inside a Joplin behavior health unit

JOPLIN, Mo. (KSNF) – A multi-day stay in the mental health unit of the hospital doesn’t have to be embarrassing or intimidating.

“People are walking around, nobody’s in straight jackets,” says Steven Dillard, Freeman Health System Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

A visit to the Stephens Behavioral Unit at Freeman Health System has a certain “stigma” attached to it.

“The biggest thing I run into is individuals that are fearful of how they’ll be perceived from being hospitalized or I think even in how they may judge themselves differently as feeling weak or vulnerable,” says Dillard.

Instead, the Stephens Unit is known as an “acute psychiatric hospital.”

“It offers that higher level of care. It is a hospital setting so there’s going to be nursing staff on hand as well as psychiatrists,” says Dillard.

While that explanation sounds so official and maybe even intimidating, staff point out it’s simply a place to plant the seed for mental health care when it’s needed the most.

“Individuals that are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or perhaps even self harming behaviors. Really that as a place to keep people safe, healthy, and alive when it comes to it,” says Dillard.

Some people go voluntarily to get the help they know they need. Others are referred by other medical professionals, because it sometimes can sound daunting to be admitted to an inpatient behavioral or mental health care unit.

“Yeah, and that’s often a big question of, ‘What’s going to happen to me if I go?'” says Dillard.

The first step is to get medically cleared to address any physical health concerns.

“Once they get cleared medically, they’ll be transported to the Stephens Unit. The first steps from there will be to meet with psychiatry staff. That will be to start the treatment plan process,” says Dillard.

After that, begins a holistic approach to treating the patient with a team of nursing staff, social workers, and a psychology team for individual therapy services.

“Addressing any of the acute factors, discussing safety plans, coping skills while they’re in the hospital and then from there, resourcing. How to connect them with outpatient providers and options that way,” says Dillard.

The length of stay varies, but a patient is usually released after 3 to 5 days. The Stephens Unit is a way to get the ball rolling to help someone get to a healthy state of mind.

“If they have outpatient providers already, they’ll reach out to set up follow-up appointments or confirm any appointments. And if they don’t have providers they’ll reach out to area resources. They’ll have options when they discharge,” says Dillard.

If you know anyone struggling with their mental health and they need someone to talk to, we urge you to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

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