- Mental Health
Emergency Room Overload: the Plight of the Mentally Ill
Misunderstanding the Plight of Mental Illness
(Please note this Hub is NOT a criticism of Emergency Room staff in any way.)
There's an epidemic out there today. It's everywhere. Misunderstood and shunned, mental illness is as common as any other disease or illness. The problem is a lack of understanding and acceptance. Let me give you some examples.
People with severe mental illnesses like Bipolar, Schizophrenia, or Major Depression have a sickness. Compare it to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It's been around since the beginning of time. Mental disorders are an illness, not a label.
Scenario: A patient with Bipolar Disorder is off his medications and having suicidal ideations of shooting himself. He goes to the local ER and reports his symptoms. After finding nothing medically wrong with the patient, a mental health or social worker is called to make a determination if the person needs psychiatric hospitalization. After the assessment, the worker consults with ER staff and the doctor about the disposition of the patient. The concern is this:
Some instances of this sort are not actual suicide plans, but the patient's outward cry for help and attention (malingering). Because of this, medical providers (not trained to deal with the behavior of mentally ill individuals), feel overwhelmed and unsure when faced with these crisis situations. The result is a lack of empathy and compassion towards the client that affects the attitude of the hospital staff. Why is this happening? Let me explain.
When a person becomes suicidal, homicidal, or a danger to themselves or others, local law enforcement and crisis hotlines direct or assist the individual to local Emergency Rooms for evaluation. Unless the community has a psychiatric, behavioral, or mental health facility equipped to deal with the situation, regular hospital ER's are the only alternative. When this happens, community Emergency Rooms are bombarded with mental patients, drug addicts, and lastly, indigent people looking for a meal and a bed masquerading as mentally ill. It's the latter of the three that most stimulates the resentment of medical personnel, understandably so! This group of individuals (malingerers), which make up a small percentage of people who end up in the ER, are familiar with the procedures for handling psychiatric clients in crisis. Therefore, they know just what to say in order to "be committed" to state institutions, which puts a strain on the availability of beds for those who actually need them, thus, filling up Emergency Rooms with mental patients waiting for transport to a psychiatric hospital, taking 'beds' away from people who actually need them! This is a real dilemma in cities who don't have a Psychiatric ER. The result: negative attitudes and labeling.
In reality, every suicide threat needs to be taken seriously. Whether the individual actually acts on his thoughts cannot be easily predicted. What if the person is saying he wants to kill himself just to get attention? Think about this....if someone feels desperate enough to go to this length to be noticed or get help, doesn't that demonstrate severe instability?
Regardless of preconceived ideas about mental illness, the problem exists. What is the solution? More funding for state hospitals? Mental health education for healthcare providers? It boils down to one thing: a lack of understanding and acceptance of mental disorders. The question is "What are we going to do about it?"
For more information on mental illness go to www.psychcentral.com
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