Jeb Simmons* wasn’t just having a dreadful day. A dreadful day would be something like running late for work and you miss your bus or spilling coffee all over your shirt just before you must give a big presentation. No, Jeb’s day was worse than that. It began with him waking up hoping to put the plan he had carefully thought out into action. He was going to kill himself. The reasons he had for killing himself were long past debatable. He had struggled with the darkness of his depression long enough and he was ready to be done with it. All of it. His first step was to wait for his foster parents to leave for work. He had already written out the note which detailed his reasons and all that was left to do was the hard part.
His foster parents had left for work earlier that morning, and Jeb was awake when he heard the front door shut and his stepfather giving the door a tug to make sure it was locked. He heard the engine start as he was getting out of bed, and as the car pulled out of the driveway, he was already filling the bathtub with water. Soon, he would get in the tub, cut his wrists, and wait for the sweet bliss of sleep. Jeb had just started to undress when, to his surprise, his foster mother knocked on the bathroom door. She had found the note in his room, called the police, and attempted to stop Jeb from carrying out his plan.
You would think that calling 911 for a situation such as this would result in an ambulance and mental health crisis worker responding to help the person experiencing the emergency. That might be how it’s done in some places, but not in Jeb’s small, rural town. The city police were dispatched and arrived in minutes. Jeb, barely clothed, was tasered in the forehead because he wouldn’t turn around after being ordered to by the police. He was then handcuffed, forced down the stairs and transported to the local hospital’s emergency room. Once there, the police brought him to one of two segregation rooms. One officer took out his pocketknife and cut Jeb’s clothing off him, including his underwear. He was then left naked on the floor until a doctor or nurse could find the time to evaluate him.
I had only been on the job for a couple of weeks. I had recently left the state department of corrections to take the job of Head of Security at the hospital. Part of my responsibilities were to keep watch over those patients who were brought in who were experiencing a mental health crisis. I had to make sure they didn’t break out of the segregation room, or harm themselves or the staff. I had just finished my rounds when my pager went off. “ER-911.” This code always meant something bad. I knew the first place I needed to go was to the seg rooms. I arrived to see two uniformed police officers wrestling with a handcuffed naked man with what appeared to be taser prongs lodged in his forehead. The wires attached to the prongs were getting tangled up in the wad of wrestling men.
I didn’t know if I was allowed to put my hands on local law enforcement, but I couldn’t ignore the cries of the handcuffed man. My job was to protect staff as well as patients. After I pulled the two cops off him and got them out of the room, I attempted to get everyone to calm down and explain to me what was happening. One of the cops pushed past me and punched Jeb in the nose, breaking it. Jeb crumpled to the ground, landing on his hands which were still handcuffed behind his back.
I later found out he was charged for disorderly conduct, assaulting an officer, and resisting arrest. Two of those offenses allegedly occurred while he was handcuffed. Incidents like this happen every day in the United States. Jeb’s mental health crisis wasn’t addressed until 12 hours after he had arrived at the hospital. Jeb suffered from major depressive disorder and wanted to end his life. Now, he suffered from major depressive disorder, was being charged with serious criminal charges, had a broken nose, had been tasered, and was laying naked in a cold hospital room. The day started with Jeb experiencing a serious mental emergency. He needed a serious mental health professional. He needed his emergency properly addressed. What he got wasn’t that. Because people can’t see a mental health problem, many believe they don’t exist. People like Jeb are treated as people who, “just want attention.” Several ER nurses confided in me that most people who come in wanting to kill themselves, “are just after drugs.” There just doesn’t seem to be a way to help people like Jeb. He was no criminal. In fact, before being charged that day, his record was completely clean. In the eyes of the police, he was a “suspect.”
Due to strong HIPPA laws, I never found out what happened to Jeb. Most patients in his shoes end up being held at the hospital for three days before being transported, again by local police, to a mental health facility. Jeb was going to kill himself. He felt like he was worthless and that no one cared. Unfortunately for all of us, he was proven correct.
*Name changed for confidentiality.