Why there should be a minimum standard of care across all psych wards

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Psych wards are designed to be a place where someone struggling can feel safe. Whether the person is having thoughts of suicide, struggling with self-harm, experiencing drug or alcohol abuse, attempted suicide, or just needs a safe space, a psych ward is supposed to be the place. Yet, people discharged from a psych ward are 100-200x more likely to die by suicide upon release.

Every psych ward is different, just like every hospital is different. Some have more funding than others, however, that does not mean the standard of care should be different. Many times, when you are admitted into a psych ward, you do not get to choose which one. Often times, it is hard to find multiple options for psych wards near you, if it is voluntary. Plus, you have to consider the financial cost, as it may vary based on insurance, type of hospital, etc.

Many psych ward visits are involuntary. Most people need serious intervention and support at that time. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, you are deserving of quality treatment that benefits you. Treatment that acts as a starting point in your recovery. You do not deserve to come out of the psych ward in a worse position. You do not deserve to be just a checked box that relieves the hospital / state of legal concerns. And you definitely do not deserve to be forced to try a medication that does not work for your actual diagnosis.

Imagine if we had a minimum standard of care that forced hospitals to allocate more funding toward behavioral health.

An individual hospitalized in a psych ward, whether voluntary or involuntary, deserves 1 on 1 time with a licensed mental health care professional that helps both parties get an understanding of the situation. Many struggling do not always know what they are going through and would benefit from exploring what they are feeling and experiencing with help. A lot of people do not have a confirmed diagnosis and may need support in learning what they are experiencing and what treatment options are available to them. When exploring the situation together, the psychiatrist may get a better feel for which medication options may be right for the patient, if the patient needs / wants medication.

Furthermore, group therapy could explore building a coping toolbox. Imagine if a group of people who are struggling with similar diagnoses were working together to explore coping mechanisms.  There could be mixed groups and groups for specific mental health symptoms / conditions / crises. People experiencing a mental health crisis often feel alone and being able to share their journey and their feelings with people who truly get it can be life-altering. Someone with schizophrenia and someone with anxiety disorder are both struggling with real mental illnesses but may need different treatment plans and different types of support. Customizing the experience for every patient to collaborate and connect not only with people experiencing similar situations but also to everyone there would be more rewarding than if it were just one or the other.

In addition, all patients should go home with a customized treatment plan. The treatment plan should include therapy / behavioral health facility recommendations, whether it is in-patient or out-patient. It should also include a list of coping mechanisms the patient feels comfortable with in addition to other coping mechanisms available to try. And the treatment plan should include a safety plan that helps the patient know what they can do if they experience another mental health crisis. 

Lastly, treatment should not be financially out of reach. When someone is held within a behavioral health facility, the cost (or a high portion of the cost) should be covered by insurance. The hospital should also charge a reasonable amount, rather than take advantage of the ability to profit on one’s mental health condition / crisis.

A standard of care within our psychiatric system is imperative to the success of our future. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death from age 10 to 35. People who need support should receive the help and support they need to jumpstart their recovery.

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