Kudos to NPR for highlighting the issue, and for sharing Melinda’s story, of spending 17 days in the ER, unable to go home for her own safety, but with no other treatment available.
Emergency rooms are not typically places you check in for the night. If you break an arm, it gets set, and you leave. If you have a heart attack, you won’t wait long for a hospital bed. But sometimes if your brain is not well, and you end up in an ER, there’s a good chance you will get stuck there. Parents and advocates for kids’ mental health say the ER can’t provide appropriate care and that the warehousing of kids in crisis can become an emergency itself.
This state of limbo, in a place as chaotic as a hospital ER, is doing less than nothing for patients. It is likely harming their mental health, and making the conditions worse. On the other hand, what else can they do? Send a kid home and have a bad outcome and the public outcry will be overwhelming, so you keep them as safe as you can, while offering zero help. Which, I guess, since you’ve pretty much locked them up, prevents the “worse case” scenario and protects you from liability, but is only making their conditions worse.
We have to have serious discussions about mental health resources, for adults and kids. This isn’t even about stigma or awareness, this is a system with fundamental flaws, that creates this lack of available, and affordable, resources. This is a society that is unable, and unwilling, to provide basic care for too many of its own members. Is that the society we want to live in? I hope not, but as long as we continue down a path where the best plan we can come up for a teenager struggling with suicidal thoughts is 17 days on a gurney, and sedated, inside of an ER, we are not that society.