Dr. Lindsay Irvin, a pediatrician in San Antonio, says the dearth of psychiatrists who specialize in treating young people means many young patients simply don’t get the mental health treatment they need. By the time they wind up in the ER, she says, undiagnosed depression may have progressed to suicidal intent. And after leaving the ER, many are lost to follow-up.
“They’ll land in a pediatric or family practice,” Irvin says, where most primary care doctors haven’t been trained “to navigate the ins and outs of psychotropic meds.”
This is an ongoing struggle when it comes to getting mental health treatment. Too often someone dealing with depression or other symptoms has no interaction with the medical community until they’ve done something to physically hurt themselves. That’s when they end up in an ER, for example. But that’s not a mental health facility.
Having spent some time in a hospital after my mental health deteriorated and caused physical illness, I can tell you first hand that is not mental health treatment. I was lucky enough to be seen by someone with that background a couple of times during the 9 days I was in the hospital, but once I was well enough, physically, to be released, I was. Once out, it was up to me to go find mental health treatment, along with my primary doctor.
Now, luckily for me, my primary doctor understood a bit about mental health issues and referred me to a psychologist who was able to immediately get me on medication and into therapy. I was extremely lucky. I’ve heard from enough people who’s experiences were very different to know just how lucky. I went back to a large metropolitan area, home to several, large, medical centers including one of the largest university medical programs in the country. I did not lack for available treatment. Far too many people leave the ER only to be thrust back into the “care” of well-meaning doctors who do not have training to recognize mental health disorders, let alone the ability to treat them, or get pointed in the direction of mental health care that is non-existent in their location.
Where do they go once the immediate emergency is over? Far too often it’s nowhere, until the next ER visit. That’s not treatment.