Category Archives: Mental Health

Is a Concrete Cell Really the Best We Have To Offer Our Mentally Ill?

Consider the case of a 60-year-old patient I will call “Library Man.” While at the public library, Library Man took off most of his clothes and was talking loudly to no one in particular. The police were called, of course. He was charged with disturbing the peace and brought to my jail.

Jails basically have three types of housing areas. First are dormitory-style rooms with 60-100 residents. Library Man cannot be housed there—the young aggressive inmates would prey on him. Second are smaller cells that hold two to four inmates. The problem with these cells is that even if the jail could guarantee gentle cell mates, it would be hard to monitor Library Man in such cells. Such cells tend to be in out-of-the-way places and have small windows on the doors. The only place that Library Man can be reasonably housed in most jails is “Special Housing,” which refers in this case to a single-man isolation cell with lots of plexiglass to allow easy observation. Such rooms are designed to have nothing that someone could use to harm themselves, so they are made entirely of concrete and steel—even the bed. This is where Library man ends up—basically in a large concrete box.

Unfortunately, this is not a good place for Library Man to be. You may have guessed that Library Man is a homeless schizophrenic who had gone off of his meds. He is harmless–certainly not a danger to himself or to others. In his psychotic state, he does not understand why he was arrested and jailed. Library Man would benefit from familiar surroundings and normal social interaction with people. He will get neither of these in the alien and sterile environment of his concrete isolation cell. Continue reading

Correctional Medicine is a Great Job! Who Knew?

I have a confession to make.  Before I knew anything about Correctional Medicine, I had a bad opinion about it.  I’m not proud of this.  I even turned down my first opportunity to get into Correctional Medicine because of my preconceived prejudice. Thank goodness I got a second opportunity, because Correctional Medicine changed my life! Who knew that Correctional Medicine was such a great job and a great career?

Certainly not my colleagues.  Back when I made the mid-life career change to jail medicine, my physician friends asked me, bewildered, “Why in the world would you want to work in a jail?”  Without knowing anything about it, they had a preconceived notion of Correctional Medicine as being low skill and basically without redeeming features.

What a difference 15 years makes! careersprisondoctor Continue reading

Essential Pearls from Essentials

Essentials of Correctional Medicine was held last week in Salt Lake City, Utah and included some great talks.  Today’s post is a list of Pearls I gleaned from the conference speakers.

The definition of a “Pearl” is a bit of pithy and insightful information that can be communicated in one or two sentences. Hopefully, it is also something that you have not thought of yet and will change your practice for the better.

I ran into several Pearls at the Essentials conference. Here is a sampling (in no particular order): Continue reading

Review Articles of the Month–Emphasis Psychiatry

Like most physicians, I subscribe to several medical education and CME sites.  One of my favorites is Primary Care Medical Abstracts.  PCMA chooses 30 papers a month of interest to primary care physicians and then these papers are reviewed by two physicians (usually Rick Bukata and Jerry Hoffman).  The reviews are insightful and funny and pretty fun to listen to.  These guys have no problem calling B.S. when they review certain papers.  I like that!  (By the way, I have no affiliation with PCMA). Continue reading

Embracing the Placebo Effect of Antidepressants.

Social Worker Shanna at work in the Ada County Jail Boise, Idaho

I recently ran across this interesting article (found here) which is the latest in a long series over the years comparing antidepressant efficacy to placebos.  I know that this is a controversial subject with some believing that all (or most) of antidepressant effect is placebo effect and others believing that antidepressants do indeed work better than placebos, especially among the most severely depressed patients.  The researchers in this article did a review of several trials and concluded that antidepressants work better than placebo in those with mild and moderate depression.  The most interesting statistic from this paper in my mind is this:  in this, the most positive analysis that I have read  on the effect of antidepressants, the “Number Needed to Treat” (NNT) to have one patient do better than by placebo alone was five (5).  In other words, 4 out of 5 patients in this study got no benefit from the antidepressant over placebo. Continue reading