We need to talk. Mental disorders and illnesses get a lot of attention in terms of conversation but active involvement remains passive. A good hard look into the current mental health model remains to be seen. Recently Gil Spencer, a contributing writer to the Delco Times, wrote an article concerning the recent murder of Matt White by his mentally disturbed wife, Maria Reyes Garcia-Pellon entitled ‘System may have failed suspected killer.’ You can read that article here: http://www.delcotimes.com/articles/2013/02/17/opinion/doc5120538137f18220165713.txt
It would be impolitic to critique a failing mental health system while society remains somewhat shy and perhaps much more comfortably ignorant of the primary problem here – that mental health is not a failing system so much as it is altogether absent. For starters, where there are stigmas associated with mental illnesses there also lies backward thinking. Fear of the consequences of getting adequate treatment, as in being labeled as someone with a mental illness, may prevent a person from seeking the help they need. Unfortunately, mental disorders seem to only catch everyone’s attention when the unusual behaviors end in the mentally ill violating the law and landing in prison.
This unstable woman Maria Reyes Garcia-Pellon mutters incessant imprecations under her breath, fosters delusions and scares her loved ones to the point of intervention, gets checked out at the hospital, a band-aid thrown on, gets the green light, goes home and murders her husband and you say the system may have failed her? A system can’t fail you if there isn’t one in place to start. The staff member who saw Maria that day epitomized the insouciant attitude towards mental illness. Maria’s need for proper assistance and her being sent away to be dealt with the next day is indicative of our lack of understanding and knowledge regarding mental wellness.
She may have gotten to the hospital and been as insensate as a brick, as her friend suggested. Her paranoia may have allowed her to nod and smile and say all the right things. Her husband may have become inured to the doctors and nurses who had no idea what they were doing and out of a sense of deflated hope for his wife’s mental state signed her up for a psychiatric appointment. In any of these cases, I find it counterintuitive to hold anything but an irreproachable attitude towards the current mental health model.
Here are a couple of direct responses I’ve made in regards to Spencer’s article:
“White took her to the Riddle ER. Why remains unclear.”
Where else was he to take her? An insane asylum? This was his wife. Perhaps due to loyalty alone, he wanted to maintain her dignity; perhaps he had preconceived notions of mental health crisis centers. Mental asylums of old were not the centers of rehabilitation they were supposed to be but rather a festering cesspool of suffering and a breeding ground for agonizing approaches to treatment.
Or not knowing where else to go may be more accurate. You have an emergency situation regarding your health, you go to a hospital. It’s as logical as that.
Why hospitals are not better equipped to deal with mental disorders and illnesses may be a question of under-funding or apathy. No matter the reason, nurses, physicians, and the like need to be better trained and up-to-date on mental health care as much as they are for coughs and colds, cancers and comas.
“… the medical staff member was “new” and just “didn’t know” where Reyes could be sent.”
So hold that person accountable. That kind of answer is a cop-out designed to save the hospital its own ass. Truth be told, the staff member’s ignorance is probably about as much as a trained physician’s level of competence. All too often physicians who aren’t properly trained, or who just don’t want to deal with it, wash their hands of the situation, and unload their accountability on a referral. I can only speculate what happened here was along those lines.
“…nothing guarantees that it would have made any difference.”
Spencer may be right here, but only because no one knows what they’re doing in the first place.
“DiStephano would like county residents to know there is plenty of real help to be had…”
Oh really? That sounds reassuring on paper, but going to Mercy Fitzgerald or Crozer-Chester could potentially be as helpful as Riddle was. Among the top reasons people don’t seek help:
1. Cost (many insurance companies don’t include psychiatric/psychological help in their coverage. Bottomline: Care is expensive if you do have insurance. Incredibly expensive if you don’t.)
2. Time (Americans are putting more time into work than ever before)
3. Fear of Stigma/Embarassment
4. Not knowing where to go
5. Getting the run-around.
“Call the hotline number (610.352.4703) and a team will show up at the home.”
Well, that’s overwhelmingly frightening to think about and embarrassing to boot. Who wants a SWAT team of psychologists swarming all over your house, so the neighbors can see and talk about you? And what about the repercussions? Domestic violence issues handled in the past didn’t pan out so well using that kind of interventional method. Call 911, take the abuser away to jail for the night, and then send them home angrier than ever.
“… in the Reyes-White case, she never quite made it into the system in the first place…”
How not? She was brought to the ER and evaluated (admittedly, improperly), set up an appointment with a psychiatrist for the next day… if she had called that 610 number or went to the Mercy Fitzgerald crisis center and had the exact same evaluation done, would you have considered that “in the system?”
So all in all, the system absolutely failed Matt White and his killer wife Maria Reyes Garcia-Pellon. But unfortunately, only the murderer will be held accountable.