When patients seek either inpatient care or outpatient treatment for mental illnesses including depression, the treatment they receive is often inadequate. Depression is one of the greatest risk factors for suicide, especially among severely depressed patients who are hospitalized due to suicidal ideation. Unfortunately, even in inpatient settings where patients are supposed to receive treatment from consummate professionals, mental healthcare providers are often left guessing, because of poor training, on what treatments will be effective with no actual scientific method of helping patients.
Scientific America calls the current approach to treating mental illnesses, including depression, the “shotgun approach,” and describes the shortcomings of this treatment method. The term refers to the fact psychiatrists often try many different types of medications in a very imprecise manner.
When patients receive inpatient treatment or outpatient treatment and the wrong medications are provided to treat depression, some of these medications can actually increase the risk of suicide- especially if patients end up having to stop taking the drugs and going through a withdrawal process. Mental health professionals may sometimes be held accountable for the harm their failed treatment efforts can cause, including when a patient attempts to die by suicide. This is especially true in an inpatient setting where care providers should quickly be able to identify when a medication is doing more harm than good.
Improving Mental Healthcare in Inpatient and Outpatient Settings To Prevent Death by Suicide
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list a history of mental disorders, and particularly clinical depression, as among the top risk factors for suicide. Unfortunately, while there are many medications to treat mental disorders, a trial-and-error approach is usually taken to decide which of these different drugs to try.
Scientific America gives an example of one patient who had been in and out of intensive psychiatric care over close to two decades. She had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and had experienced periods of suicidal depression. She had been prescribed antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers, and anticonvulsants. She had also undergone group and individual therapy, cognitive therapy, and behavioral therapy- but none of the treatments received had made any lasting impact. The medication she’d been prescribed did lots of different things, from blocking dopamine to focusing on norepinephrine.
Her story was common, as mental illnesses are frequently treated based on guessing which medications will affect observable symptoms, rather than based on getting a correct diagnosis of an underlying cause and treating that specific condition. Genetics and brain imaging in the future could provide clearer answers regarding what is actually going wrong in the brain structure or brain function so more accurate treatments could be provided, and there has been extensive research in this area. Unfortunately, there are continued challenges in finding common markers within different diagnoses.
While treating with medication and experimenting with different drug therapies is challenging and imprecise, it is likely to be the most common method of providing care until research advances. When a patient is in an inpatient setting and different medications are being experimented with, it is imperative for care providers to ensure they are monitoring the effects of medication and are alert for any potential risk of suicidal ideation. When nothing is working, Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) should quickly be considered and carefully explained to the patient and the patient’s family.