New Hampshire facing acute shortage of psychiatric beds

New Hampshire, like several other states in the country, is facing an acute shortage of psychiatric beds, leaving people with severe mental illness in the lurch. While the average number of people waiting for a mental health bed was just nine in 2013 in New Hampshire, it jumped dramatically to 46 at the end of March 2017, media reports said. 

Governor Chris Sununu has asked for daily reports on what he calls the next big unspoken state crisis, the Associated Press reported. As per Sununu, among daily reports that he gets on mental health patients sitting in the emergency rooms (ERs) with no bed, sometimes those people are there for two weeks or more.

According to Ken Norton, executive director of the New Hampshire chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the problem has further increased due to several hospitals closing psychiatric units to more profitable undertakings. Some of the other issues highlighting the waiting list include inadequacy of qualified psychiatrists, case managers and psychiatric nurses for existing facilities and the stigma attached to mental illness.

Although Norton agreed to the severity of the situation, he is optimistic that the issue will be addressed, as the governor is moving forward with addressing the crisis. As per him, one of the underlying causes of the crisis is that people with severe mental illness are often devalued and not counted by the society.

Ray of hope

One of the important step taken in the direction was the authorization of $12,500,000 by the 21st Century Cures Act aimed at addressing an increase in ER visits by patients with mental illness. The Cures Act authorized the Department of Health and Human Services to award the grant to states to develop, maintain and enhance Internet-based databases that aggregated and displayed information about available beds at inpatient psychiatric facilities real time. These databases facilitate identification of available beds for those suffering from mental or substance use disorder.

According to a 2016 report by the Treatment Advocacy Center (TAC), a nonprofit working for people with severe mental illness, the United States now has 37,679 state psychiatric beds, about 13 percent down since 2010. The TAC data also shows that the country lost about 6,000 state hospital beds from 2010 to early 2016. Incidentally, the U.S. population grew by nearly 14 million during the period. The TAC has recommended 40 to 60 mental health beds for every 100,000 people as against the current national average of about 12 beds.

Road to recovery

The U.S. is in the throes of a mental health crisis. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2015, there were over 43 million people aged 18 years or older in the country – representing about 18 percent of all adult population — with any mental illness (AMI) within the previous year. Lack of availability of psychiatric beds or lack of community mental health resources may give people with severe mental illnesses limited access to mental health services.

When diagnosed, individuals suffering from mental illnesses should be sent for immediate evaluation and treatment. As per mental health experts, failure to treat individuals with severe mental illness can result in worsening of their health and gradually increase the likelihood of needing inpatient services. To know more about mental health and mental disorders, contact professionals at the 24/7 Mental Health Helpline. Call our 24/7 helpline number at 855-653-8178 or chat online with a mental health therapist to find one of the best mental health facilities near you.