The Center for Disease Control just released new statistics concerning suicide rates in the United States. Between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate increased by 24%. Accelerating in the latter years from a 1% rise per year to a 2% rise per year. In 1999, 10.5 deaths for every 100,000 residents were due to suicide. By 2014 that number had risen to 13 per 100,000. In the our county the rate far exceeds the national average: 20.4 suicides for every 100,000 residents.
The local daily paper, the News Press, printed an article earlier this year that strongly suggests the high rate of suicides in our county is due to a variety of factors, not least of which is the paucity of mental health providers. Florida is 49th our if 50 states in mental health funding. The major health provider in Lee County is the Lee Memorial health System. It is a public system, and it operates four hospitals, and numerous other facilities. There is not one full-time psychiatrist in any of those four hospital's emergency rooms. Not one. (New-Press, 1-24-16, 35A)
I am a fan of the relatively new medical dram called Chicago Med . It chronicles life in a big city hospital, especially the comings and goings in its ER. One of the key characters is a psychiatrist, Dr. Charles (I'm sure he has a first name, but I don't remember hearing it!) I'm sure the character is part of each show because it adds another dimension to the usual blood and guts of such dramas. But time and again, the rather shlumpy looking shrink (played by a brilliant Oliver Platt) offers an insight that clarifies things for patients, doctors and nurses alike. Sometimes a life-saving insight.
I know Hollywood has a lot more money to throw around than Lee memorial Health System (or any other hospital system) but if Chicago Med can afford a psychiatrist, why can't our hospitals here? I don't know the answer, but if we are to begin to address the suicide crisis, it could make a real difference. It is only one part of the solution. Our mental health system needs major funding, and a major overhaul. But it would be a start.
During the first episode of Chicago Med, the hospital administrator, Sharon Goodwin (played by one of my favorite actresses, S. Epatha Merkerson) says of the ER staff as someone goes through the door, "There are good people, strong people on the other side." And so it is in our Lee County ERs. There are good, strong people working in our ERs. One of them, though, per shift, per ER, should be a psychiatrist.