Last week a man died of suicide less than one hour after being released from a hospital in Burnaby, British Columbia, according to CBCNews. The man, 39-year-old, Eddie Young, had been admitted to the hospital two days prior after his mother discovered he had been beaten, robbed, left on the side of the road and, according her, "was clearly not with it, he wasn't speaking sentences. He wasn't making rational thoughts."
These are symptoms of psychosis.
Young was held in the hospital for two days, during which time the mother repeatedly visited and called the hospital to tell them that Young had threatened to kill himself and also had anxiety issues. She also asked staff to call her when he was released so she could come and pick him up.
Unfortunately, not only did the hospital assess Young and release him, but they never called the mother to alert her.
Young was dead less than one hour later.
Does Psychosis Get Better in Two Days?
I am not an expert on psychosis, but what I do know is that, even when properly treated, it can take significantly longer for psychosis to remit. And not only can it take longer for psychosis to remit, but it certainly takes longer than two days for the person who has suffered it to process it, deal with it and get prepared to handle what comes next. Psychosis is not a common cold. Psychosis affects how you understand the world, how think and, ultimately, how you act. Does this sound like something you could handle in two days?
And even if this was not diagnosed as formal psychosis, the state that Young was admitted in should have been taken very seriously and aftercare should have been a major concern. He had just been robbed and beaten, after all -- where was the concern not only for his mental, but physical, safety?
How Can a Suicidal Patient Be Released to No One?
When you get anesthesia, doctors insist that someone drive you home. In fact, not only does someone have to drive you home, but someone actually has to be with you for 24 hours to make sure no complications arise. So, in what universe does it make sense to release someone who had recently shown signs of psychosis and known to be suicidal to no one? Doctors say it was the patient's wishes. Well that's nice, but the last time I checked, you can't drive yourself home after anesthesia due to the dangers involved -- and that is not your choice. You must actually sign a paper saying that you won't do that. Why should a person being released for a mental health issue get to usurp this? Are these people not the ones less capable of making healthy decisions right after a psychiatric emergency? I know that when I'm in a mental illness emergency, my choices aren't the most safety-oriented.
This Is Not about Patients' Rights, This Is About Safety
Someone out there is going to scream that I'm not for patients' rights. Well, as a psychiatric patient, I can assure you, I am. But in the case of someone being released from the hospital after a psychiatric emergency, someone should always be there to ensure the safety of the person involved and everyone else. Young had just been robbed and beaten. How was he even going to get home?
It's easy to say this shows a lack of care from the health care providers -- and it does -- but it also shows an institutionalized lack of care for those with mental illness or mental health issues. Aftercare for a patient should not be optional. Even if the doctor was completely right in releasing Young (which I would suggest he was not) aftercare is still essential. I know I received aftercare after just getting dental surgery and I would say that being beaten, robbed and losing the ability to be rational is considerable more jarring.
And don't think that this is an isolated incident. People are constantly being kicked out of hospitals early, or not admitted at all, particularly in the United States, thanks to insurance companies refusing to cover reasonable-length, evidence-based, psychiatric treatments. And many of these people aren't receiving a shred of aftercare.
I would indict these health care providers with a failure to provide actual health care. While no death by suicide is okay, this one was particularly egregious. I really hope that Young's death keeps the health care providers up at night, because it certainly has me.