Emergency Care of the Mentally Ill

Pat Salber

First published 4/17/11 on The Doctor Weighs In

Say you are grappling with a chronic mental illness….bipolar disease or schizophrenia.  You have been told you need to take your medications as prescribed, but you can’t… or you won’t… or you do… but on your own timetable.  Your symptoms get worse and your family gets nervous.  You are doing things that scare them.  It is the middle of the night, so they do the logical thing.   They take you to the closest emergency department.

Emergency Departments are pretty wild places a lot of the time.  Thanks to ED overcrowding, chances are there is a full waiting room with people in various states of disarray (some are bleeding, some are vomiting, some are squeaky clean and others are disheveled and reeking of (pick one):  alcohol, urine, cigarettes, vomit, “Aroma of Street,” or dried blood.  You are freaking out…but you are told you have to wait until they can get to you.

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