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.

Author Question: What Happens to the Child of an ER Patient?

Susan Asks:

I am wondering what happens when a mother is injured and her seven-year-old child is with her. The unconscious woman is discovered by a passer by who calls 911. She wakes up, an ambulance arrives and she is taken to the ER.

I assume the child who is fine would go with them if the police haven’t been called. The woman is from out of town and knows no one in the city so the child can’t be picked up by anyone. The mother has a concussion and is kept overnight for observation. I am most interested in learning what would happen with the child at the point that they arrive at the ER while the mother is being examined.

Jordyn Says:

From the EMS standpoint— yes, they would bring the child with the parent.  As far as in the ER, if the mother is awake, the child would be in the room with her. The ED staff can assist with care of the child until the mother is feeling like she can manage. A child this age could be given activities to keep them entertained (coloring, snacks, a movie, etc).

If the child needs more than that then a member of the staff (like an ED tech or volunteer) could provide some assistance until the mother is feeling better and able to care for the child on her own.

Also, a concussion is not a reason for admission to the hospital. Not even overnight observation. Concussion patients are generally not admitted— even with a loss of consciousness at the scene. Even a minor car accident with loss of consciousness does not require admission if everything else is okay.

You don’t specify her mechanism of injury in your question. For concussion we want to see them alert and oriented and that their concussion symptoms (headache, dizziness, nausea) improve or resolve. CT scanning is more common in the adult population for head injury so if that shows no bleeding then there’s really no reason for her to stay in the hospital. If you need her admitted, I can help you have the character meet admission criteria.

Hope this helps and happy writing!