Waiting times vary from weeks to months, and people are usually asked to wait without any care. anyaberkut Getty Images/iStockphoto
Waiting times vary from weeks to months, and people are usually asked to wait without any care. anyaberkut Getty Images/iStockphoto

Editorials

Why is it so hard to get medical care for mental health?

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

May 13, 2016 09:22 AM

UPDATED July 06, 2016 02:08 PM

Imagine you fractured a bone in your foot.

You go to a hospital and they tell you to come back when they have a bed open. You ask how long and they shrug, saying there are 300 people on the waiting list.

So you leave and try to figure out the next step. You ask yourself: How do I get this fixed? How do I deal with the pain? Will my foot get worse? Could the lack of care cause other issues?

Fast forward two months: You finally get a bed and treatment for the worsening foot but now you have a weird pain in your leg. The hospital, strapped for beds, time and staff, can only fix the immediate problem. You leave and the foot gets better, but the leg pain gets worse. You go to the hospital but the waiting list is now close to 400 people.

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Sounds awful, right?

For Texans who suffer from mental illness, this scenario rings too true.

As of April 1, Texas state hospitals had a waiting list of about 400 people, officials told The Texas Tribune.

The Star-Telegram reported 392 inmates were on that list as of last week.

Waiting times vary from weeks to months, and people are asked to wait without any care. When they do get care, it usually is for the immediate crisis.

For example, a woman attempts suicide, gets admitted to a hospital for a few days and is discharged for what is called an isolated incident. But the hospital doesn’t address the woman’s history of addiction, other suicide attempts and mental illness.

We can’t necessarily blame the hospital. How can doctors focus their time on the complexity of understanding this woman’s mental illness when 400 people need their time?

“The ultimate issue is this lack of resources, whether it is state hospital beds, whether it’s privately licensed psychiatric beds, or capacity at local mental health authorities, that creates a funnel effect, or bottleneck effect, at the hospital ER,” John Hawkins, a Texas Hospital Association senior vice president, told the Texas House Mental Health Select Committee on April 27. “ERs don’t necessarily have the right expertise and/or medications to provide service to those individuals.”

The problem with only stabilizing the immediate problem is that the true issue never gets solved.

It’s like putting a bandage on the problem but not understanding why it keeps falling off.

These patients need care. Actual care. Not a quick fix to salve the symptoms, but a working solution to treat their disorders.

Mental illnesses don’t wait because a person has to. And they shouldn’t have to.