Criminal Minds: Can a Patient be Admitted for Psychological Distress?

In a recent episode of Criminal Minds, a woman was nearly shot and killed by a madman operating a drone. She is saved and uninjured, but is admitted to the hospital just in case she begins to suffer some psychological distress.

Can this really happen?

The situation as portrayed on television— no.

When admitting someone emergently for a psychiatric problem, one of two things needs to be a concern. Either the person is a threat to themselves, to another, or both. You might hear a provider ask, “Is the person expressing HI or SI?” which stands for suicidal ideation or homicidal ideation.

If a person is expressing either or both of these concerns then a couple of things happen. The patient first must be medically cleared by a physician to ensure that there are not any coinciding medical concerns. Once this takes place, they then are put through a mental health evaluation.

Once a mental health evaluation is complete, it is decided what type of psychiatric services the patient may require. Sometimes, it is admission under an involuntary hold. Other times, the patient may be connected with outpatient services.

Think about the many events that have happened just in the US where people will be suffering psychological distress, but are not expressing suicidal or homicidal thoughts. The  devastating hurricaines. The mass shooting in Las Vegas. Put simply, if we admitted every patient that we were concerned for the potential of psychological distress outside of expressing HI or SI— we’d quickly run out of hospital beds. Plus, patients expressing these concerns should not be placed on a medical floor unless they also have co-existing medical problems that they need treatment for. Also, in that case, they require one on one observation.

Although a nice thought, you do have to have a mental concern other than psychological distress from surviving a potentially life-ending event to be admitted into the hospital.

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