October 9, 2006

Psychiatrists On The Wrong Side of Civil Rights, Again

Hunter college caves to lawyers.

A student takes a bunch of Tylenol in an OD attempt, and after 4 days inpatient returns to her dorm to find she has been evicted.

The article makes it sound as if Hunter College kicks you out of school if you attempt suicide, which wouldn't necessarily be improper, but it's also not true.  Hunter College's housing contract says you can't live in the dorms if you have a suicide attempt.  That's a little different.

So the student sues, and Hunter decides to settle.  Her lawyer gloats:

“We’re pleased that Jane has been compensated for the college’s discriminatory treatment based on the stigma attached to a mental illness,” said David Goldfarb, one of the law firm’s attorneys representing her. “If Jane had been hospitalized for mononucleosis or pneumonia, I am confident that she would have been welcomed back to her dorm,” he added.

Well, gee, maybe a suicide attempt made volitionally, with a good chance of happening again, is a little different than pneumonia?  Stigma of mental illness?  So she was evicted for being on Zoloft?

The lawyer for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law , who should know better, says,

"Schools that exclude students who seek help discourage them from getting the help they need, isolate the students from friends and support at a time when support is most needed, and send students the message that they have done something wrong.”

Hmm.  I thought Hunter was a college, not a daycare?  Since when is it a school's responsibility to ensure adequate access to friends?  Is it responsible for finding them mates as well?  The problem with this statement is its logical conclusion: when can a school exclude students who seek help?  Never? Let's say the next time she tries suicide by turning the gas on, and she blows the dorm up.  Oops?

The most dangerous quote of all is from someone who really, really should know better, but obviously doesn't:

[Rachel] Glick, who is also associate chair for clinical and administrative affairs and a clinical associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Michigan, emphasized that "universities should be open to being informed by psychiatrists and other mental health professionals about what to do to enhance the care of the students, rather than just thinking about protecting themselves from lawsuits."  

So let me get this straight: the university should ask the psychiatrist about whether the person could stay on campus or not?   Any psychiatrist out there who wants that liability football?

College:  So now that you've evaluated her, should she be allowed to return to the dorm?
Psychiatrist:  Huh?
College: Is she going to kill herself again?
Psychiatrist: How the hell would I know that?  I can't predict the future.
College: But you all told us we needed to seek your advice.
Psychiatrist: Hey man, don't try to pin this on me.  I'm going to lunch. 

Interestingly, the Psychiatric News article doesn't mention last month's case  where the parents of  Charles Mahoney sued Allegheny University because Charles was not put on mandatory leave of absence while he battled depression for two and a half years.

Everyone wants it their way; sue when you don't get your way, logical consistency be damned.  Has it now become outrageous to say that  the liability for a suicide attempt and its prevention lies  entirely with the person attempting it? 

(Addendum: many angry at my post, so I refer to the specifics of the case itself.)