The season finale of “Grey’s Anatomy” season 15 was all sorts of emotional. Meredith had committed insurance fraud, Owen and Schmitt were stuck in traffic that turned into a massive pileup and Jo was finally opening up to Alex after being closed off to him for a long time. One of the last shots we see is Alex dropping Jo off at the psychiatric ward of Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital, and that’s where I have a huge problem.
In previous episodes we see Jo start to fall apart after meeting her birth mom. She learns she was the product of rape, and because she looked so much like her biological father, her mother could hardly stand to look at her. It was absolutely heartbreaking. When she got back to Seattle she took time off work, stayed in bed for weeks and did a lot of heavy drinking to numb up her pain. Eventually, Meredith stayed with Jo until she finally said what was causing her to feel so depressed.
There was a huge part of being admitted into the behavioral health unit of the hospital that was missed in this finale. I have been admitted to the hospital for suicidal ideation twice, and I have been there with someone else twice. If it was as simple as being walked to the doors of the unit, I feel like a lot more people would utilize the precious resource that it is. However, it is not that easy.
Every time I have been to the hospital for suicidal ideation I’ve had to go through the emergency room. The kind receptionist asks what you’re being seen for, and that’s the first time you have to tell a stranger that you’re suicidal. They give you a wrist band, and tell you to wait in the lobby. When they call you back, as quickly as possible, they take your vitals (blood pressure, heart rate, height, weight) and ask you why you’re in the ER. This is the second stranger you have to tell you’re suicidal. They ask if you have a plan, and if you have intention of carrying out that plan. Then they admit you to the ER.
Once you’re admitted, your nurse comes to your room, asks the same questions (third stranger you have to tell you’re suicidal), and sometimes they remove anything in the room that can be used as any kind of weapon towards anyone. Then you wait. And wait. And wait some more. Everyone who is working knows exactly why you’re there, but most of them have no idea what you’re going through.
The staff aren’t sure how to act. In my experience, they try to be kind, which they are, but it’s this certain way of being cautiously kind as if at any moment you might strip naked and start screaming at the top of your lungs. It’s like they’re completely terrified of you.
Eventually, they send a doctor to your bedside to evaluate the severity of your suicidal ideation. From there, they send a caseworker. These are the forth and fifth strangers you tell of your suicidal ideation. If you have someone with you, they might send them to another room to make sure you have the space to tell the whole truth. Once the evaluations have been done you wait some more. They make some calls to find a bed in a behavioral health unit for you to stay in and get immediate treatment. The longest I have waited was around six hours. As soon as there’s a room for you they bring a wheelchair you have to sit in, you say goodbye to whomever is with you and you are off into a maze of locked doors and elevators only activated by keycards.
While the season finale of season 15 was incredible, this was a massive missed opportunity to show the world what it’s really seeking mental health treatment. It’s not pretty, and it’s not easy, and that’s why we need more attention to correct details surrounding admission to a psychiatric unit.