Archive for April, 2016

Can Inpatient Care for Mental Health Issues be Improved?

A quarter of adults in the United States meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness. More than 1,069,000 people in the country attempted suicide in 2014 alone, according to the American Association of Suicidology.

Americans spent as much as $69 billion on mental healthcare services back in 1999 and while there is no current accurate data, experts suspect the spending is significantly higher today than it was almost two decades ago. Unfortunately, despite the massive spending and the significant need for effective inpatient and outpatient treatment, the system designed to treat people with mental health issues is fraught with problems in the United States.

Pacific Standard recently published an in-depth report of some of the issues with mental healthcare services in the United States. The report highlighted problems with inpatient care facilities in particular – and suggestions for positive change.

Until more effective solutions are identified, however, patients will continue to be at the mercy of care providers who  likely are not  equipped to actually fulfill their role at treating illness and preventing death by suicide. When a death occurs either under the care of an outpatient care provider or while a patient is receiving inpatient mental health services, family members of the victim should consider pursuing litigation  to hold the care providers accountable and, importantly help change conditions in the mental health industry

Problems in the U.S. Mental Healthcare System

Pacific Standard Magazine reported on one situation in which the mental health commissioner for the state of Virginia took a trip to an inpatient psychiatric care facility run by the state. The commissioner saw a facility which appeared very functional, as he saw impressive presentations and met with residents. However, the entire system seemed so perfect the commissioner suspected a Potemkin village had been constructed for his benefit.

He was proved right when he dropped by unannounced several weeks later. Residents suffering from behavioral problems smelled of unwashed clothing and urine. Patients requiring intensive treatment were alone in rooms as staff members chatted with each other in hallways. Overmedicated patients were also everywhere, slouched on the couch in front of the television.

When the commissioner tried to take steps to fix conditions, he discovered quickly there was little he could do to improve things and he also discovered similar problems existed nationwide in care facilities. He has since written a book focused on the problems with the mental healthcare system in America as well as focused on suggestions for making positive changes.

Unfortunately, the problems he identified with inpatient care are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to nationwide issues with mental health services. Some of the many issues include psychologists and psychiatrists relying on outdated treatments and insurers who refuse to pay for the care patients need.

Less than 15 percent of mental health care consumers actually receive care based on evidence, and those who don’t can suffer greatly from ineffective treatments.  When this poor care is provided to patients and suicide or other serious consequences result, it is important to pursue claims against those responsible to ensure there is at least accountability within the ineffective patchwork system for providing care.

Helping Teens Fight Suicidal Behavior with Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 to 24 in the United States. According to the American Association of Suicidology, more than 5,000 young adults and teenagers in this age range die by suicide each year. Unfortunately, teen depression is not understood as well as it should be and treatment methods – including inpatient treatment – are not always effective at providing young people with the services and support that’s necessary.

When a teen receives inpatient or outpatient care and still takes his or her own life, it is important to determine if the mental health counselors or care providers lived up to their duties as required by law. A failure to provide appropriate care and to perform a proper suicide assessment can result in a claim against any care provider, while inpatient facilities can also be held accountable for failure to adequately  monitor patients to prevent death by suicide.

Inpatient and Outpatient Treatment Must Help Teens Fight Suicidal Ideation

Argus Leader recently took an in-depth look at the problem of teen suicide, sharing the story of a 17-year-old who took her own life after a lengthy battle with depression. The young woman was a volunteer and mentor to others who took dual credit classes and who planned to attend university in the fall. Unfortunately, her family had a history of mental illness and the young woman began to develop depression after a move and after her parent’s divorce when she was in the fifth grade. She was also a victim of bullying in school, and she began cutting which is a common coping measure for teens who struggle to deal with emotional pressure. She also attempted suicide in fifth grade, and was hospitalized in an inpatient treatment facility.

She ultimately would make several more suicide attempts and be hospitalized at the same inpatient facility several times before dying by suicide.  She received a variety of different treatments, including transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is a relatively new depression treatment aimed at stimulating nerve cells in the brain using magnets. Unfortunately, the treatment efforts were not successful and she died by suicide this year.

Her story is similar to the struggles endured by many other teens, who care providers often do not understand how to treat effectively. Efforts are underway to improve the care young people receive, and 20 states have now adopted the Jason Flatt Act to require public school personnel to complete required training on youth suicide prevention and awareness.

Awareness is important, but can only go so far if the teens who are identified as being at risk are not provided with treatments that make a difference in their depression. Unfortunately, if mental health care providers and inpatient treatment centers do not develop more effective ways of treating and preventing teen suicide, tragic deaths of young people will  continue to occur.

Emergency Rooms Can – and Should – Screen for Suicide Risks

Identifying people at risk of suicide is an essential step to providing these patients with the care they require.  A new study shows care providers in the emergency room have an important role to play in identifying people at risk; this is yet another study stating the obvious.  Healthcare professions in an ER setting must do their part to ensure patients are identified so they can receive appropriate care. If not, an attempted suicide may occur within minutes to hours of an unthoughtful disposition.

ER Nurses Can Help Identify Patients at Risk of Death by Suicide

NewsWise reported on the recent study showing the important role emergency room caregivers can play in preventing a suicide. The research was conducted by UMass Medical School.  Researchers discovered when emergency room nurses conducted a universal suicide risk screening, almost double the number of at-risk patients were identified. At-risk patients included those who were positively identified as thinking about suicide or patients with attempted suicide.

The study spanned a five year period. During this time, there were 236,791 visits to emergency rooms included in the study. Suicide risks screenings performed on patients increased from 26 percent to 84 percent of patients undergoing screening over the study period. This increased the rate of detection of suicide risk from 2.9 percent to 5.7 percent.

The suicide screening performed in the emergency room was simple. Nurses in the ER departments were trained to administer a brief questionnaire to patients focused on three risk factors for suicide: depressive symptoms, lifetime attempts to die by suicide, and active suicidal ideation.

Patients were identified as having a positive screen if they had either confirmed they have active suicidal ideation or if they had attempted to die by suicide within six months of the time of the visit to the emergency department.  With this screening process, a subset of patients was identified whose risk of suicide was serious enough the patients needed inpatient psychiatric treatment. Other patients were identified who needed additional evaluation and intervention resources such as a self-help safety card and information about a suicide prevention lifeline.

The lead author of the study indicated: “Our study is the first to demonstrate that near-universal suicide risk screening can be done in a busy ED during routine care. The public health impact could be tremendous, because identification of risk is the first and necessary step for preventing suicide.”  The lead author is correct and we applaud the entire team performing the research.  We hope that the study is transformed into action in the emergency departments and the study is not just a group soliloquy among academics.

No further efforts to help identify risk of suicide in emergency departments are needed at this time.  This need has been answered by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center last year, 2015.  Skip Simpson highly recommends the outstanding work produced by the SPRC: “Caring for Adult Patients with Suicide Risk: A Consensus Guide for Emergency Departments.”  This important work (the ED Guide) is designed to assist emergency department (ED) providers with decisions about the care and discharge of patients with suicide risk.