The Overlooked Crisis in Mental Health That Is Only Going to Get Worse

October 21st 2016

Tricia Tongco

When you think of someone who heads to the ER, you might think of a patient in need of physical care. However, new research has found that emergency rooms are flooded with the mentally ill as well.

Emergency facilities are overcrowded with these two types of patients competing for resources, according to new research presented at a recent American College of Emergency Physicians’ meeting, reports The Huffington Post.

According to The Huffington Post, the study, which has not been published yet, found:

"...20 percent of psychiatric patients who showed up at the ER were admitted to the hospital, compared to 13 percent of patients with physical problems.

"Mental health patients were also disproportionally likely to stay in the emergency department for six, 12 or 24 hours after admission, indicating that unlike patients in the throes of a physical emergency, mental health patients aren’t receiving the care they need to be discharged."

The reason for this crisis goes back decades. Over the past 40 years, psychiatric services have shifted away from inpatient institution, which has resulted in less than 50,000 inpatient beds in America, according to an abstract of the aforementioned study, which was published in the journal American College of Emergency Physicians. This change has forced people to find other forms of treatment, such as outpatient facilities, community resources, and group therapy.

Another study published in the journal Health Affairs exploring this topic found that the length of stay for psychiatric visits was far longer than for nonpsychiatric visits, with 80 percent of emergency departments boarding mental health patients. The co-author of the report, Dr. Renee Hsia, told The Huffington Post that “ERs are the de facto dumping ground for psychiatric patients.”

“I think most of us can intuitively understand that a chaotic, often windowless environment is not beneficial for these patients,” Dr. Suzanne Lippert, lead author of the unpublished study and clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University, told The Huffington Post. “We simply need more resources to support both in-patient care and sufficiently robust outpatient care.”

Possibly exacerbating the issue is the number of psychiatrists available to treat patients. As HuffPost highlights, the shortage of psychiatrists will worsen as they entire retirement, since nearly 60 percent of psychiatrists are 55 years old or older, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.

[h/t HuffPost]