A mental health crisis in emergency care: emergency departments lack adequate in-house and community resources to care for suicidal patients.
The lack of adequate outpatient psychiatric services, especially for uninsured and underinsured patients, has rendered emergency departments (EDs) one of the few remaining options for psychiatric patients. A study published in 2004 provided statistical evidence of this dynamic, showing that psychiatric-related ED visits (those reflecting any of three common psychiatric ICD-9 codes for a suicide attempt) increased 15% nationwide from 3.7 million in 1992 to 4.3 million in 2000, representing 5.4% of all ED visits. (1)
In a national survey of 340 emergency physicians conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians and mental health organizations, 67% of respondents said mental health services health services Managed care The benefits covered under a health contract had declined in their communities during the previous year, and 60% reported increased pressure on the front line (i.e., EDs), particularly because psychiatric patients consume provider attention, increase patient boarding, and force ambulance diversions. (2)
Similarly, a recent analysis of 12 nationally representative communities published by the Center for Studying Health System Change The Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organization located in Washington, D.C. HSC designs and conducts studies focused on the U.S. cites psychiatric patient volumes as part of a "convergence ... of pressures" currently taxing hospital EDs, restricting access to care, and increasing healthcare costs. (3)
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States and the 4th leading cause of death in children, accounting for more than 30,000 deaths annually. (4-7) Every day, nearly 1,500 Americans attempt to take their own lives. (7) The majority of suicide attempts are treated in hospital EDs.
A previous suicide attempt is one of the biggest risk factors for suicide completion, (8-12) and research has demonstrated that follow-up mental health treatment after a suicide attempt can reduce the rate of subsequent attempts. (8-10,13) Therefore, it is vital that EDs have appropriate personnel to evaluate suicidal patients, and that linkages exist between emergency care and community mental health resources. Such linkages are currently inadequate.
Emergency physicians and ED staff are responsible for treating the medical complications of suicide attempts, as well as assessing the risk of subsequent suicide attempts in consultation with mental health professionals. (10,14) The ED is often the first point of contact with medical and mental healthcare for these patients. (10,15) In one study, 39% of suicide victims visited the ED at some point in the year preceding their deaths, with more than one-third of these visits for nonfatal self-harm. (16) Therefore, EDs represent an important part of access to mental health services and could play a crucial role in suicide prevention. (8,10,17)
Recently my colleagues and I from the UCLA UCLA University of California at Los Angeles
UCLA University Center for Learning Assistance (Illinois State University)
UCLA University of Carrollton, TX and Lower Addison, TX Emergency Medicine Center and the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior surveyed the medical directors of all 346 California EDs (18); 223 (64.5%) responded. We found that in California EDs, there were limited mental health services for suicidal patients. Psychiatrists were reported to evaluate the majority of suicidal patients in only 10% of EDs. Most psychiatric evaluations were performed by either mobile county or private psychiatric evaluation psychiatric evaluation The assessment of a person's mental, social, psychologic functionality. See DSM-IV-table multiaxial assessment, Personality testing, Psychiatric history, Psychiatric interview. teams (PETs), or social workers on call to the ED.
Although our study found that evaluation of patients with suicidal ideation suicidal ideation Suicidality Psychiatry Mental thoughts and images which hinge around committing suicide. See Suicide. by a mental health professional was the usual practice, 23% of the ED directors reported that they occasionally send patients with suicidal ideation home without such an evaluation. Seventy-one percent reported needing improved access to mental health personnel for evaluation of suicidal patients, 61% reported needing improved access to mental health personnel for patient disposition, and 76% reported a lack of community mental health resources to which to refer patients.
Respondents often commented on the lack of inpatient psychiatric beds available (especially for adolescent patients), the lack of community mental health resources for uninsured or Medicaid patients, overburdened PETs being slow to respond, inadequate drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in their communities, and long delays in follow-up outpatient psychiatric appointments even for funded patients.
About one in five Americans has a diagnosable mental disorder mental disorder
Any illness with a psychological origin, manifested either in symptoms of emotional distress or in abnormal behaviour. Most mental disorders can be broadly classified as either psychoses or neuroses (see neurosis; psychosis). Psychoses (e.g. , excluding substance use disorders. However, the majority of those with a mental health disorder do not get help. This failure of our healthcare system results from inadequate funding, lack of parity in insurance coverage, stigma, shortage of mental health professionals, and lack of political will to make mental health a priority. President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health recognized that transforming mental healthcare in America will require fundamental changes in all social services settings at the federal, state, and local levels. (19) These changes cannot come soon enough.
The hard reality is that millions of Americans who need mental health services to achieve positive clinical outcomes do not receive any, and for many the care that is furnished is inappropriate, inadequate, ineffective, or obsolete. There are many stark manifestations of our system's failure, including lives lost to suicide and the hundreds of thousands of people with a mental disorder who are homeless, unemployed, or inappropriately institutionalized or incarcerated. (20)
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7. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Noun 1. Department of Health and Human Services - the United States federal department that administers all federal programs dealing with health and welfare; created in 1979
Health and Human Services, HHS , Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an operating division of the Health and Human Services Department (HHS), was established in 1992 by the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration Reorganization Act (Pub. L. No. 102-321). . Summary of National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action. Available at: www.mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/publications/allpubs/SMA01-3518/default.asp.
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Any of a variety of techniques in psychotherapy that utilize guided self-discovery, imaging, self-instruction, and related forms of elicited cognitions as the principal mode of treatment. for the prevention of suicide attempts: A randomized controlled trial A randomized controlled trial (RCT) is a scientific procedure most commonly used in testing medicines or medical procedures. RCTs are considered the most reliable form of scientific evidence because it eliminates all forms of spurious causality. . JAMA 2005;294:563-70.
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The likelihood that a positive test result indicates disease or that a negative test result excludes disease.
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BY LARRY J. BARAFF, MD
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Larry J. Baraff, MD, is a Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine/Emergency Medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, and Associate Director of the UCLA Emergency Medicine Center.