By: Chris Burke
For someone dealing with a mental illness, the emergency room is the last place a person wants to be. An emergency room visit usually occurs after a suicide attempt or the threat of a suicide attempt. My own experience with the emergency room and subsequent hospital stay taught me that I never want to end up there again, no matter what.
My first day and night in the emergency room at the Grand River Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario had me cooped up in a tiny room, stuck in an armchair, watching whatever movie the other patient in the room put on next. That night, I had to sleep on a hospital bed that was left out in the hall. In the morning I was awoken by the hospital staff going about their business. A far cry from my normal, peaceful environment. I spent the full day sitting in that same armchair. There was one visit from the psychiatrist and a few nurse visits though none of it was very helpful. It wasn’t until the end of that day that a bed down in the mental health ward opened up for me.
I won’t go into the rest of my story here. My point is to illustrate that the purpose of the emergency room is not to treat the illness. It is to keep a person who is at risk for harm safe, not to immediately address their illness. Keeping a patient safe may mean leaving them with nothing to do and the boredom that accompanies that. The experience is not pleasant, which is why I find this story frustrating:
Children from First Nations and low-income families are more likely to use Alberta emergency rooms for mental health care, according to a University of Alberta study.
“We found that more First Nations children (arrived at) emergency departments for disorders secondary to substance abuse and intentional self-harm than other children, and that, compared with other children, First Nations children returned more quickly to the emergency department and had a longer time before visiting a physician in the post-crisis period,” said Amanda Newton, researcher in the departments of pediatrics and psychiatry. (Globe and Mail)
It’s no surprise that these groups find themselves using emergency rooms for mental health care. In a previous post, I discussed the high rates of suicide among Inuit. I’m not stating anything new by point out that mental illness is a serious problem for First Nation youth, a group that often finds itself living in low-income families.
People from low-income families face additional challenges when it comes to be treated for mental illness. Along with the obvious difficulties that result from poverty, there is the fact that treatment for mental illness can be expensive. The cost of medication is high without insurance. Getting top-rate therapy can be prohibitively expensive as well.
A trip to the emergency room should only happen as a last resort, but for those with no other options, or no idea where to go. It is the only option. This must change. More funding must be given to mental health care to allow for quality care to all income groups and youth.