This Is Why Jails Are Not Psych Hospitals
(Aug. 21, 2013) An inmate in a California jail died after consuming a “significant amount of water,” according to the Sacramento Bee. This tragic story is yet another example of why jails should not be the primary providers of treatment for mental illness (“Autopsy says Yolo inmate drank a fatal amount of water,” Aug. 10).
The inmate’s death left the coroner and jail officials wondering why he would drink so much water. They ruled out foul play. They ruled out trauma and drugs. They even investigated suicide, auditory hallucinations and attention seeking behavior.
But mental health professionals would have recognized his behavior as indicative of psychogenic polydipsia. The condition, although rare in the general population, is not rare among those with severe mental illness and it results in the excessive consumption of liquid – often leading to intoxication and death.
“[S}chizophrenics are among those battling mental illness who are prone to drink water compulsively,” said UC Davis biochemistry professor George A. Kaysen.
In an appropriate inpatient setting, a simple plan executed by nurses and doctors trained to recognize the disorder common among people with serious mental illness may have saved this man’s life.
This heartbreaking story is just one more reason why jails and prisons are not fit to be the largest providers of mental health care in the country.
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