The Movie Unsane is Insane in its Portrayal of Mental Health Care

A recently released movie, Unsane, starring the remarkable Claire Foy, highlights the plight of Sawyer Valentini after she’s been involuntarily committed into an inpatient psychiatric hospital.

This post does contain spoilers to the movie so stop reading if you don’t want to know more about the film.

The crux of the story is that Sawyer believes her stalker has made his way into the psychiatric unit where she is a patient— whether or not that is the case is the mystery.

Unfortunately, the way that psychiatric care is highlighted in the film is disturbing at best. At worst, I hope it doesn’t deter anyone from seeking mental health treatment if they need it.

Problem One: Not disclosing to a patient why she’s being admitted. The genesis of Sawyer’s admission into the psychiatric unit stems from a visit with a counselor where she discloses at times she thinks about hurting herself. She’s left unattended (a no-no if you think someone is suicidal) and the next scene is a nurse escorting her into an intake room. The nurse never fully explains to the patient the reason for the admission and leaving it out doesn’t really increase the drama of the scene— it just makes the nurse look mean and uncaring. Simply, a nurse could say, “Your mental health provider has placed you on an involuntary hold because she’s concerned you’re going to hurt yourself. ” Then the heroine can argue with her about why she feels the admission is unnecessary.

Problem Two: Having the patient undress but allowing her to keep her bra. A bra is considered a ligature risk and patients can’t have anything on their person that they might use to hurt themselves. Hair ties, piercings, and other jewelry are all removed.

Problem Three: Drug injection sites. Emergency drugs for agitated patients are usually given IM (intramuscular) and not IV (intravenous) to the neck or arm. Can you imagine trying to start an IV on an agitated patient? It’s much easier to land a needle in a large muscle group then to try and finesse a tiny IV catheter into a moving target.

Problem Four: Leaving a patient alone in restraints all night. There are very specific regulations around restraints and significant documentation that goes along with it. Patients in restraints are continuously observed by a staff member and circulation to their extremities is checked often. Also, the patient must be offered bathroom breaks at a minimum of every two hours and you can’t deny them food as punishment. The goal is always to get patients out of restraints as soon as they can be safe— and that doesn’t always imply that they are calm.

Problem Five: A mixed gender open unit. Need I say more?

Problem Six: That psychiatric care is an insurance scheme for money and that patients are intentionally kept until their insurance money is exhausted. This is a large crux of the movie to the point that one of the patients is actually an undercover police officer trying to uncover the scam. This is the most disappointing aspect of the film. There are so few mental health beds around the country right now that it is not difficult to fill them. Here’s a news article here, here, here, and here— which all posted within one week. Trust me, mental health facilities can keep their beds full without perpetuating insurance schemes.

Overall, an interesting movie, but portraying the current state of mental health care in this country would have only increased the tension and drama for this film.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s