BOCA RATON, Fla. – In our ongoing series of reports on mental health issues, we recently told you about potential abuses of the Baker Act, which is intended to stabilize people in crisis, protecting them from themselves and others.
Even when it’s not abused, some experts say it still isn’t providing a solution to those in need of support.
Shortly after moving to Florida 20 years ago, a woman, who asked to be referred to only as “Diane,” started struggling with anxiety and depression.
“And so they put me on Paxil and I’ve been on it ever since,” she said.
Through medication and self-care, Diane does her best to moderate her mood swings, but a few weeks ago, she reached a breaking point.
“I noticed I was walking around saying, ‘Life is exhausting,’ and it was,” she said.
After a suicide attempt, Diane found herself hospitalized under the Baker Act.
“So when the ambulance pulled away, I thought, I’m going to make the best of it and use everything that I get in this hospital,” she said.
Instead, Diane found herself locked away in a place devoid of empathy and support.
“You just walk the halls. There was no therapy. You would meet the doctors and the psychiatrists and they didn’t care about you at all. They didn’t look at you,” she said.
Psychotherapist Evan Jarschauer said that many facilities simply follow the language of the Baker Act, which is to assess the patient and get them stabilized.
“Oftentimes the case is, once the standard of care, the statutory expectations have been met, assessment and stabilization, goodbye,” he said.
Jarschauer said because the system is overrun with cases, even those who are admitted, like Diane, may not receive the care they need to get better.
“Families are finding out that the system, if left to itself, its own devices, doesn’t work,” Jarschauer said.
That’s why he recommends families and patients engage experts to advocate on their behalf and oversee their care.
Going forward, Diane hopes she can find the mental health support she truly needs.
“If I had cancer, I would have so much support, but I have a mental health issue (and) I don’t have support,” she said.
In many cases, it doesn’t matter if you have resources, such as insurance, because experts say we’re in a mental health tsunami right now.
They say people pushed over the edge from the pandemic are filling up offices, seeking out mental health specialists.