Mental health care delivery in US

After I finished writing my last post, I did what I needed to do, which was to stop watching and reading the news for a while. I went out of town (already scheduled outing) and didn't even bring my laptop. Quite a feat for me. I've only started catching up on the news this morning.....

As some students go back to class at Virginia Tech this morning, many questions still remain. In catching up with the news, I was pleased to see that college campuses are now starting to analyze how they deal with mental health issues. (Seattle Times)

Awareness is especially heightened at the UW [University of Washington], given a murder-suicide earlier this month, when a campus employee was killed in her office by an ex-boyfriend who then shot himself.

The UW's president and the provost on Friday formed an advisory committee on violence prevention to take a look at safety protocols across campus.

Already, a UW counselor works part time assisting resident housing advisers with student mental-health issues. In addition to its regular clinical services, the campus counseling center also operates a consultation line five days a week to handle questions from faculty, staff or students.

When the UW identifies a student who has talked about or attempted suicide, the student must see a campus psychologist. The student is then given the option of undergoing four assessments with a mental-health provider.

If the student declines to participate in those assessments, the UW can start proceedings to remove the student from school, said Eric Godfrey, vice provost for student life at the UW.

What I really hope happens is a careful look at how all mental health care is delivered in the entire country - not just on college campuses? I know, but a doc can dream can't he?

As I've talked about on this blog before, the mental health services in my little county are sparse at best. We have about 100,000 people in the entire county and about 500 square miles to cover. The number of psychiatrists I can count on one hand (and it's even less than five).

A lot of people have barked to me that only psychiatrists should be prescribing mental illness medicines and the primary care doc should be left out of it. The reason PCPs prescribe is because there is no one else to diagnose and treat these patients. It can take months to get an appointment with a psych.

Other supportive services are overloaded as well. We do not have the number of counselors that are needed to adequately services the patients of this community. So, what happens, these patients end up in the ER.

Since there is no inpatient psychiatric hospital in the county, we have to transfer out everything. And, the ER docs out there know how difficult it is to transfer out a psych patient to a different county. This patient can sit in the ER for 8-10 hours (delaying treatment) while the doc tries to get a hospital to accept them.

Or, some patients end up in jail, dealing in the legal system, and maybe dumped back into the outpatient follow-up system which I have described above. There's no good solution here. But, maybe, just maybe, some good can come out of the VT tragedy with this look at mental health care delivery in the US.

Update 4/24/07: Here is a letter to the editor from the Chicago Tribune who states as far as her state is concerned, when it comes to grading mental health care delivery, "Illinois received an F."