Psychiatric supports are sorely lacking in our community – even in our hospitals. Family physicians, psychologists, social workers and psychotherapists are the first line of defence in treating people with mental illness. Sometimes, though, these professionals are not enough to care for their clients and keep them safe.
The standard message to people who are so ill and distressed that they are contemplating suicide is to present themselves to the emergency department of the nearest general hospital. Sadly, The Ottawa Hospital emergency rooms at both the Civic and General campuses do not provide a very welcoming or helpful safety net for these people. (The Royal Ottawa Hospital might seem an obvious choice, but in fact it no longer offers emergency psychiatric care.)
Having accompanied clients to the emergency rooms when the family physician, psychologist and I all felt the situation was critical and admission necessary for safety, I have encountered the lack of psychiatric support.
Not only are clients’ feelings, thoughts and plans invalidated, but they are sent back out into the community without any psychiatric support after being seen briefly by a resident. There is no follow-up plan or future appointment given. In cases where clients are admitted to in- or out-patient services, discharge planning seems to begin immediately.
Hospital staff members are quick to point out that they have no provision for ongoing support or medication management. There is no list of community psychiatrists to which patients can be referred.
People in deep emotional crises are vulnerable, scared and feel out of step with society. Admitting they need help and asking for it are huge steps to take. Our hospitals must do all that they can to respond appropriately with attention to the person’s problems, help in finding solutions, and follow-up to ensure safety. Putting people back onto the streets after long waits, little attention and no future plan only serves to confirm their feelings of hopelessness and isolation.
Suicide becomes a more attractive option when we make getting help in a crisis such a difficult one.
Judy Kiar, Ottawa
Marriage and family therapist
This letter was sent in response to an article published on February 21st, 2004, entitled “Depression research expert joins Ottawa institute.”