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Shocking little-known facts about mental healthcare in America


Here are some of the appalling things we have learned about hospital-based psychiatry in the US, from the point of view of you or your loved one as an inpatient.  It is not an exhaustive list of shockers, but these are some major ones:

 

1.

No security cameras

Appallingly, there is no legislation (U.S. or New York) requiring psychiatric hospitals to have security cameras in their wards, which is carte blanche for staff to abuse patients.  We think cameras should be mandatory, don't you? Use of force incidents don't need to be videotaped in hospitals but they do in prisons, at least federal ones.  How would you feel if you found out your loved one were abused in a hospital that refuses to videotape "use of force" incidents?


2.

Weak protection for patients

Here's a jaw-dropping fact: Animal cruelty laws, U.S. federal prison policies, and U.N. laws governing the treatment of prisoners of war, are all more stringent than U.S. and most state laws applying to psychiatric hospitals. Hospitals aren't required to guarantee patients any fresh air time, visits from their children, drinking water, appropriate clothing, freedom from corporal punishment...etc. This means that even Saddam Hussein and your dog would be guaranteed more respect of their rights than psych patients are. It's shocking that such egregious human rights abuses could occur in any hospital, let alone in some of America's so-called premier teaching hospitals.


3.

No access to hospital policies 

There is no law requiring hospitals to show patients their policies and procedures.  In other words, hospitals say you must abide by their rules but they aren't required to tell you what the rules actually say. This is akin to a company requiring you to sign a contract to buy its services, without allowing you to read the contract. Shouldn't all hospitals' policies and procedures be publicly available? You'd think this would be a no-brainer but apparently not. 


4.

No access to your own medical records 

There is no specific legislative requirement for a hospital to show patients their own medical records while they are in the hospital -- other than the HIPAA 10-day federal law, for which allegedly no "private cause of action" exists, i.e. you can't sue hospitals under this law. What is the point of having a law that doesn't enable you to sue someone who abuses you by breaking it?


5.

Even the cops don't understand the laws

The police seem to think that penal code doesn't apply inside of a psychiatric hospital, so if you are assaulted inside a hospital they think it isn't their problem. Lawyers tell us this is untrue. Who is right?  Wouldn't you expect the police to deal with it if you found out your loved one was assaulted in a hospital? Recall that psychiatric patients have not been convicted of any crime, and most are not dangerous at all.  Assault, for example, is just as heinous a crime when it happens in a hospital as when it happens on the street. 


6.

Even Gitmo is better equipped

The facilities at Guantanamo Bay are better than the so-called "best" psychiatric hospital in New York.  And Gitmo is being upgraded too, at great expense, thanks to the federal government!  It will have a soccer field, DVDs, newspapers and library books, while the "premium" psych ward has none of those features.


7.

State laws are unconstitutional

Most States’ mental health “emergency detention” provisions are unconstitutional, because they permit a psychiatric hospital to detain you indefinitely based on a subjective assessment of dangerousness by only one psychiatrist.  There does not need to be probable cause -- i.e. you don't need to be carrying weapons, or to have committed any crime.  The shrink signing the form does not need to be very experienced; in Ms. Andersen's case a junior (i.e. resident) doctor did so, apparently unsupervised.  And there does not need to be more than one doctor involved for the first two days. This could hardly be considered due process.   If you compare various state laws governing emergency detention in mental hospitals, you will find that there is an alarmingly wide variety in requirements.


Rewriting the laws

Shouldn't we modify the laws to clarify them and close these loopholes?  If the patient were your girlfriend, your wife, your sister, your mother, or your daughter, what would you want the law to be?  This is (or at least should be) a bipartisan issue. Liberals, many of you go around the world lecturing other countries about how to respect human rights; why don't you do something about rights abuses on our own soil? Conservatives, most of you think human rights are an issue for the left; have you forgotten that it was George Bush senior who introduced the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act?  Our legislators apparently don't think that patients deserve at least the same respect of their rights as prison inmates. We hope and believe that a judicial decision in our class action case, when it is finally issued, will help change their minds.

 

Wake up, America! We need to see sanctions for psychiatrists and other "mental health workers" who abuse patients' human rights. Hospitals which do so should be fined and blacklisted. Hospital managers need to have their faces slapped with the message that their patients are human -- not laboratory animals. Law enforcement officers and legislators need to understand that our U.S. constitutional rights apply not just on the streets but inside a hospital too. 

 

Whether or not you care about the protection of political dissidents, here's some food for thought for legislators and the public about the importance of psychiatric patients' human rights:

 

The percentage of the population with mental health conditions is increasing as our population ages, and the elderly are more likely to suffer from mental health conditions than younger people.  That means these issues will become more and more important to the general public in future.  

 

A whopping ONE QUARTER of the country's population is being treated for a mental health disorder (source: National Institute of Mental Health) -- yes, that's 75 million people.

 

Just to look at depression, for example: a staggering 11% of Americans over the age of 12 are treated for depression (source: CDC).  

 

Additionally, one in nine people suffer from anxiety disorders. 

 

And there are many other common mental health conditions to consider, e.g. Alzheimer's (one in eight older people suffer from it), Alcoholism and drug addiction (1 in 10 people), and Autism (1 in 88 children, and growing).  

 

These days, you would be unusual not to have a friend or loved one who suffers from a mental disorder. Mental illness is not "someone else's problem" anymore.

 

Take heed, Americans -- that psychiatric patient may one day be you!