So, I finally got my first two letters done! Whew, it took more time to complete than I thought! I decided to start with emergency care, and so I addressed my letters to the President and CEO of each of the largest hospital systems in my area. I’ve had experience being a guest at both. Here are some of the highlights of the letters I sent.
When it gets to the point of going to the hospital or using emergency services, this is when control of one’s mental health has usually gotten out of control. Yet, when mental health patients seek out emergency care there are few effective resources available to the patient except in the instance where one is violent, suicidal or considered some other kind of imminent threat to society or themselves.
What happens though when a person is not suicidal, homicidal or completely out of control but is still in acute mental pain? From my own experience, the current standard emergency room practice is to treat physical ailments and then provide the patient with a list of resources to contact in order to treat any psychological concerns. In a nut shell, no pun intended, what this tells the patients is: we don’t want to hear about your mental problems here.
Funny, when this was happening to me I knew it was wrong, yet it didn’t truly hit me how wrong it was until I read so many painful stories from other people. I recently wrote a post about the strong coorelation between mental pain and physical pain called, “It’s not all in your mind.” Even I was shocked, upon doing a little research, at how closely these two work together towards whole health, which makes me wonder: Why is there such a monsterous gap between treating a patient’s physical symptoms and treating their mental symptoms?
So, what are my own suggestions for improving this situation? Is it really such an outrageous request to have people on staff who can properly address mental health issues? I’m not naïve enough to think that there will be an ideal protocol for every situation. Mental health disorders can vary greatly in type and level of severity. The ability and the willingness to consider and accept help is also crucial.
At the very least, there should be someone who can sit with a patient, listen to their concerns, explain things to them, etc–someone who has the same level of care and compassion in mind as any other doctor, nurse or attendant on staff? I don’t think this is something that would cause too much of a hiccup for hospitals.
Having a dedicated team would be even better. I’m not talking about a “behavior” wing. I’ve had experience with that too, where I’ve been treated more like a prisoner or criminal than a patin.
In writing my letters I also suggested that hospital-funded programs could be established in order to address mental health issues, much like they might have a similar program for heart and lung patients…. maybe a walk-in mental health clinic?
Considering the unprecedented number of people who are reporting mental health concerns these days, along with soaring rates of things like suicide and random acts of violence, none of this seems unreasonable.
I say if even one suicide or mass shooting has the chance to be prevented it would be well worth it. If it was your loved one involved, either as a perpetrator or a victim, would you not want everything under the sun to be done in order to prevent such an occurrence from happening? Beyond these two extremes though, is it not simply the right thing to do when so many people seem to be living in pain?
I would like to encourage anyone who has had a similar experience to write a thoughful letter to your local hospital leadership or adminstrative team asking them to please consider revising their protocol when it comes to how they treat mental health patients.
My ultimate goal is to help establish programs and improve the effectiveness of mental health treatments in most aspects of life including schools, universities, educational programs and professional organizations. Too many people are needlessly living in pain and anguish because of a broken system. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s becoming an epidemic that continues to grow in intensity.
A century ago mental health care was just beginning to come out of its infancy. Now we must do the work to bring it out of its adolescence.
Read my first post here: The case for mental health reform: Part 1, failure is not an option
Also check out this mental health series: Memo at Midnight