Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Idaho death highlights need for better mental-commitment laws, often problematic in rural areas

An Idaho family hopes the death of their son prompts the state to improve psychiatric-commitment laws, which are difficult to implement in rural areas, Audrey Dutton reports for the Idaho Statesman. Her object example is Nigel Youngberg, who suffered from bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, died in April "after wandering the hills of Gem County (Wikipedia map) in a bathrobe, windbreaker and tennis shoes. His parents and siblings say his death could have been avoided if police had heeded their requests to take him into custody and get him to a hospital earlier in the week, as his psychosis worsened."

One problem, said Emmett Police Chief Gary Scheihing, is that Idaho’s psychiatric commitment laws "are vague, subjective and taxing to carry out in rural communities," Dutton writes. Another problem is that law enforcement officers "lack mental health training but are expected to act as first responders in a crisis, when it can be hard to tell violent psychosis from garden-variety criminal behavior." Either way, Gem County Sheriff Chuck Rolland said Youngberg "did not meet the criteria to be taken to a hospital."

The county prosecutor said the state's mental health system faces "a lack of funding and, especially in rural areas, a scarcity of psychiatrists and other mental health professionals," Dutton writes. Idaho has 174 psychiatric beds, or 10.5 per every 100,000 residents, reports Michael Ollove for Stateline. The national average is 11.7 per every 100,000 residents.

"Across the country, a critical shortage of state psychiatric beds is forcing mentally ill patients with severe symptoms to be held in emergency rooms, hospitals and jails while they wait for a bed, sometimes for weeks, Ollove reports.

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