Thursday, September 19, 2013
The Aaron Alexis case is about gross indifference and lack of effective medical care for our brothers and sisters who are mentally ill.
The Washington Post reports today that
Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis had sought treatment for insomnia in the emergency rooms of two Veterans Affairs hospitals in the past month, but he told doctors he was not depressed and was not thinking of harming others, federal officials said Wednesday.
Those walk-in visits came just two weeks after Alexis had called police in Rhode Island to report hearing voices and feeling vibrations sent through his hotel-room walls. On Aug. 23, he went to a VA hospital in Providence. Five days later, he went to another one in Washington, seeking a refill of the medication he had been prescribed in Rhode Island, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
In both cases, doctors sent Alexis home with the medication, identified by law enforcement officials as Trazodone, a generic antidepressant that is widely prescribed for insomnia. The VA doctors told him to follow up with a primary-care doctor. It is unclear whether he did.
“Mr. Alexis was alert and oriented, and was asked by VA doctors if he was struggling with anxiety or depression, or had thoughts about harming himself or others, which he denied,” the Department of Veterans Affairs said in a memo sent to Congress on Wednesday.
This article brings back frustrating memories.
As I reported yesterday, we invited our delusional and paranoid friend to stay with us in order to prevent him from hurting himself or others. Nothing we said or did appeared to make any difference. He could not sleep and his delusions worsened over the course of several days.
We realized that he needed psychiatric assistance so we took him to a nearby hospital ER. The triage nurse agreed, but all of the hospital psychiatrists worked in the secure mental health clinic and no ER patient could see a psychiatrist unless the screener admitted the patient to the clinic for a mental health assessment. Despite our friend’s obvious mental and emotional agitation, the screener refused to admit him to the clinic when our friend insisted that he only needed a good night’s sleep and denied that he was a danger to himself or to others.
The ER doctor subsequently capped the frustrating visit with a refusal to write a prescription for an effective sleep medication.
We scheduled appointments with various psychiatrists on a serial basis, a frustrating process by which we learned that, unless they have committed a violent crime injuring another person, no effective psychiatric relief is available to help a mentally disturbed person who refuses to admit that they are a danger to themselves or to others.
In other words, you cannot get there from here.
Aaron Alexis eventually figured this out during the six-week period of intensifying paranoid delusions, inability to sleep, and rising anxiety over losing his job and everything for which he had worked.
13 people are dead. This tragic case is not about collecting and maintaining better cross-referenced records so that people can be publicly identified and humiliated as mentally ill and have their security clearances revoked.
Mental illness comes and goes. Bipolar disorders can be managed with appropriate medication.
This case is about gross indifference and lack of effective medical care for our brothers and sisters who are mentally ill.