Earlier this week, 60 Minutes produced an outstanding documentary earlier this week on the subject of mental health. The report highlights the case of Gus Deeds, the son of Virginia state senator Creigh Deeds. After his father was unable to admit him to a psychiatric crisis bed, Gus stabbed his father and then took his own life. It is a gut-wrenching video to watch, but I highly recommend watching it all the same. This story has played out in some form or another in thousands of American households in recent years.
Although the events described in the 60 Minutes segment are about Virginia, they perfectly encapsulate two major problems in North Carolina:
- Shortage of inpatient crisis beds. When people experience psychiatric crises that cause them to become dangerous, there is often nowhere for them to go. In North Carolina, the average wait time to get admitted to a psychiatric bed from an emergency department is over three and a half days. From 2007 to 2012, the number of people served by the state psychiatric hospitals decreased by 75 percent.
- No care continuity. Psychiatric hospital beds are not intended for long-term care. Even still, providers or insurers often discharge people before they are actually stable. Once discharged, few patients are able to continue treatment – often because they do not believe that they are sick. Mary Jo Andrews, a mother who was interviewed in the 60 Minutes segment, explained: “There’s really no place after the hospital so the kids end up coming back home right where the situation started.”
For the first time in a long time, the state and federal governments are starting to turn their attention to mental health. Policymakers should start by addressing the area of greatest dysfunction: the crisis system. By increasing the number of inpatient beds, policymakers can ensure that people in crisis are able to get help when they need it. And by implementing programs like assisted outpatient treatment, policymakers can help to ensure the continuity of care for people who repeatedly fall through the cracks of the mental health system.