Category Archives: Mental Health

Suicide – Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

It’s September, which is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.  Let’s start with awareness. According to the Centers for Disease Control, rates of death by suicide have increased in this country by 35% from 1999 to 2018.  More specifically, the rate has increased by 2% every year from 2006 to 2018.  The overall rate of death by suicide in 2018 was 14.2 people per 100,000.  For men, the rate is higher than the rate for women, with a suicide rate of 22.8 per 100,000 for men and 6.2 per 100,000 for women.  The rate for women, however, increased by 55% between 1999 and 2018.

According to the most recent data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the rate of death by suicide in state prisons was 21 per 100,000 up from 14 per 100,000 in 2001.  In federal prisons the rate in 2016 was 12 per 100, 000 down from 13 per 100,000 in 2001.  In local jails, the rate of death by suicide in 2016 was 46 per 100,000 down from 48 per 100,000 in 2000.

These rates tell us despite our efforts in training, education and suicide prevention within our jails and prisons, people are still choosing to take their own lives.

Suicide is the intentional ending of one’s own life. Think about that.  Just sit and think about the fact that thousands of individual human beings, every year, decide that the life they have should end.  Many of these individuals experienced emotional and cognitive distress beyond what they believed they could handle and saw death as the best possible choice in the moment.  They likely felt alone, isolated, trapped and hopeless.  Like there was nowhere to turn. We can change that.

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Mental Health Screening – Set Up for Success

It was a holiday weekend in the middle of the night.  The booking area of the jail was a big, open, noisy pit with people sitting in plastic chairs, watching TV or on phones and the officers either behind desks or circling the perimeter. It was filling up.  A staff member was completing initial mental health screenings in a corner of the open room, up on a platform and behind a computer.  She had the electronic health record open to the mental health screening form and she was going through each “yes/no” question, reading from the computer screen and not looking at the recently arrested individual, a young man picked up on a possession charge.

“Are you currently taking any medications for mental health problems?”  “No.”

“Have you ever been hospitalized for mental health reasons?”  “No.”

“Are you currently thinking about hurting or killing yourself?”  Pause. Swallow.  “No.”

“Have you ever been treated for withdrawal from drugs or alcohol?” “No.”

She missed it.  She missed the pause; she missed the swallow.

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Introducing Sharen Barboza

I am pleased to be joined on JailMedicine by my colleague Dr. Sharen Barboza! Dr. Barboza has been providing correctional mental health care for more than 20 years. Her complete bio can be found in the About The Authors tab (here). Besides her broad experience, intelligence and common sense, Dr. Barboza is simply the best speaker I have heard at any correctional medicine conference. I am honored to have her as my co-editor at JailMedicine! Jeffrey Keller

Dr. Sharen Barboza

I am truly honored, grateful and humbled to join Dr. Keller on JailMedicine.com.  I think that now, more than any other time in the past, we are all realizing the impact that our mental health has on our ability to function in the world.  For so many of us, we take the “health” part of our “mental health” for granted.  We trust our thoughts to be based in reality; we rely on our emotions to adequately and appropriately meet the moment; and we have confidence in our ability to cope with what comes our way.  Most days. 

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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