Where to begin? In the slim chance you are not familiar with being in a psychiatric facility, I will try to describe what it was like for me. First of all, it was not like what was portrayed in “Once Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. It was not like the hundreds of horror movies that take place in an abandoned psychiatric hospital. The unit I was in is known as a Psychiatric Emergency Services unit. As it was explained to me while I was there, the purpose of the facility is to stabilize the patient. To “Stop the hemorrhaging”. The average stay there is about 7 days. After 7 days, if a patient is not stable, they will be transferred to a long term care facility. If a patient is stable, they will be referred to outpatient services.
I suppose I am telling you this information for two reasons:
1. To let you know that these places exist. I had no idea. I am guessing most of you are not aware either.
2. Mental Illness and Addiction often go hand in hand. Like peanut butter and jelly.
As it turned out, I probably did not have to call 911 in order to get admitted. I could have just shown up and explained that I thought I needed help. I probably would have been admitted had I taken that route. What I had been lead to believe was that it was much easier to get help if the law was involved. I still believe that is true in most cases. That’s a sad statement on our society.
I was fortunate to be in Pittsburgh at the time. I was also fortunate to have been taken to UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. I have since learned that every state has been mandated to provide these emergency services, but there is no requirement as to how many beds a State or hospital is required to have. The unit I was in had 34 beds and I was lucky enough to have shown up when there was a bed available (one of the reasons I was in the “holding area” for 20 hours… they were waiting for a bed to become available). This was one unit, in one hospital, in one city…Pittsburgh, PA. By contrast, at that time, Arizona had 7 beds available for the WHOLE ENTIRE STATE! When I was told these stats, I remembered the two week waiting line to get into a detox facility in the small town of Potsdam NY, which served towns across three counties in Northern NY. The disparity between States, Cities, and rural communities is shocking. Had I not been working in Pittsburgh at the time, I shutter to think how things may have turned out. I was lucky. I was fortunate.
If you are interested or just curious, I recently found this resource that has gathered statistics about mental health facilities and in particular the public psychiatric beds situation across the US. Experts estimate that a population should have around 50 beds per 100,000 people. The map of the US in the first link will show you the actual number of beds by State. It’s too bad it does not show how many beds per 100,000 residences. Still, you can google a state[s population and do a rough calculation. For example, Iowa has about 3 Million people. To meet the 50 beds per 100,000 people goal, they should have 1,500 beds. They have 64. Poke around. Look at your state. Its eye opening!
Treatment Advocacy Center