Change Needed for Treating Suicidal Patients

A common phrase you hear surrounding mental health is “don’t be afraid to ask for help.” Yet, why is help that isn’t scary so hard to find? In this generation, mental health has definitely become easier to talk about. Both through social media and in real life, more people are willing to open up and talk about the commonalities and struggles mental health has brought upon them. However, it seems as though intense mental health treatment hasn’t caught up to current times. Why is it that suicidal individuals are still being sent to the emergency room by police when they should be treated with a different approach? This needs to change.

First of all, the process of even getting to the emergency room to get evaluated can be traumatizing, especially if the person has made a suicide attempt or has suicidal ideations. Often times the first point of contact for a suicidal patient is the police. Even at UC San Diego, when mental health services find out that a student is suicidal, they will automatically call the police to access the situation and typically take the student to the emergency room to get evaluated. Someone who is clearly not in a good mindset is likely not going to want to get bombarded by people in police uniforms with loaded guns. This gives the indication that the person who is suffering is a criminal instead of a person and is being treated as such, like they have done something wrong. Police officers do not know how to handle these situations well in the first place because their purpose is inherently to reprimand criminals and encompassing situations. They add nothing to the situation other than fear placed upon the suicidal person. Not only is their presence scary for the individuals, but getting driven to the ER in a police car with bars is not a good message to send to someone who is struggling. If one is feeling suicidal, wouldn’t it be a good idea to escort the person to the evaluation in comfort? Bars and plastic seat backs in a police car don’t exactly scream “comfort”. In some cases of suicide attempts or ideation, the individuals are even handcuffed on their way to the ER

The next step of getting help in this path is going to the emergency room to get evaluated; the emergency room where every other kind of physical trauma or injury goes to get evaluated. This is inherently overwhelming, being in a fast paced and high stress environment where others around you are clearly in pain or in distress. There is clearly a reason people tend to be scared of the doctor’s office. The environment of a hospital is cold and harsh, with uncomfortable hospital beds, intense waiting rooms, and a sterile smell lingering in the air. This is not an ideal environment for anyone, let alone someone struggling from mental health. 

In this day and age of COVID-19, the emergency rooms can be more crowded and overfilled, with an increasing danger of exposure to patients and loved ones. Sometimes there can even be a lack of rooms with patients having to wait out in the hall or even get their care and evaluation out in the hall. It is unnecessary that mental health patients be evaluated in these circumstances, witnessing and hearing the stressful physical situations happening around them. This is why the ER is not an ideal place for a suicidal individual to go. There should be certain designated centers which are specifically made for suicidal individuals or those in mental crisis. In these centers, the surroundings should be comforting and cozy to allow the individual to relax and feel comfortable opening up and receiving help. Being in an environment where everyone is there for the same reason as you could be comforting to individuals who feel like they are alone, as well as being in a safe place that isn’t as traumatic or scary as going to the ER. The care needed for mental health patients is drastically different than care needed for normal patients and should be treated as such. The same evaluations could occur but just in a more comfortable and appropriate setting for the situation that isn’t as stress inducing. If this was the case, maybe so many individuals wouldn’t be as scared to ask for help when they really do need it. Mental health patients are not criminals and it’s time they stop being treated as such. Mental health should be handled with care and sensitivity, something a busy emergency room is not bound to provide.   

Photo by Martha Dominguez on Unsplash.