This morning at the emergency department, my own mental health was tasked by a patient left from last night, who has schizophrenia. Initially, her family agreed to come and get her. Then they refused, and said ‘she needs help’.

Granted. But she probably meets no criteria to ‘be put’ anywhere. She is calm, but has been hearing voices. She wants to go 1.5 hours back to Franklin, North Carolina. But even there, no one will help her. She is too confused. She wanders too much. Her contact phone numbers are of no use, for no one answers.

What do we do? Few people realize the immense difficulty of placement of the mentally ill. They just know that when a family member is acting oddly, you bring them to the ER to be ‘put somewhere’. The thing is, there just isn’t anywhere to ‘put them’.

She stayed with us about nine hours, until social services got her a room in a local hotel. She may not be there in the morning. And we don’t have the ability to commit her, not being actively psychotic, suicidal or dangerous.

In fact, she’s quite the opposite. A middle aged Native American, lost, looking like a child separated from her parents in the woods, or on a street, asking ‘where are they’? She was crying and confused.

What do we do? Our best, that’s all, and all the while trying to remember that disturbed minds are part of disturbed brains; organs as susceptible to disease as any heart, lung or kidney.

I hope she finds her way home. Wherever that may end up being.


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