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Treating the Mentally Ill

Syndicated from madness: tales of an emergency room nurse
January 11, 2011

As we always do when something like this happens in our country, we are dissecting the shootings in Arizona. We are blaming, analyzing, etc. Of course, mental illness has come up. This guy was obviously a psychotic. People wonder why someone didn't do something, get him some help, have him committed. It shows how little the public knows about the care of the mentally ill in this country.

In the ER we are on the front lines of peoples mental health problems. We are failing these patients miserably. What bothers me most about how we deal with the mentally ill is that they are not treated the same as other patients. This is how it works in our ER when someone comes in.

They are placed in a room with just a cart and usually a couple of chairs. In a corner of the room, up high, is a camera. If the patient is suicidal or homicidal security is called to stand outside of the room. The patient is asked to empty their pockets, take off their shoes, give up their coat, purse, etc. Their personal belonging are locked up. The nurse comes in. Then the doctor comes in. Then a clinician from mental health comes to take to the patient at length. The patient may wait up to an hour or more to see the mental health person.

Once they are seen, the mental health person goes to call the psychiatrist and if they are to be admitted, clear their admission with their insurance company. Another hour or more wait. Once the bed is ordered, another hour or more ensues. Sometimes there are no beds. When that happens the person sits for hours waiting for a discharge or is transferred to another hospital in the city or even in the state a couple of hundred miles away. This happens more often than you think.

The point of all this? It is not easy to get help for mental health. The is a lack of services available, their is a shortage psychiatrists. Mental health is not treated with the same seriousness or attention as physical problems. I wonder if it ever will be.

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