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Opinion

Letters to the Editor: Want to reduce suicide rates? Focus on gun control and mental healthcare

An inmate sleeps in a room in an area of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles meant for psychiatric and medical care.
An inmate sleeps in a room in an area of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles meant for psychiatric and medical care.
(Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: The L.A. Times’ investigation into suicides in psychiatric hospitals sadly misses the forest for the trees.

The handful of in-hospital suicides each year in represents fewer than 0.1% of California suicides. In-hospital suicide rates are already low by historical standards.

Trying to get them to zero will cost billions of dollars that has already driven many psychiatric hospitals out of business and could be far better spent on outpatient mental healthcare. While the Department of Veterans Affairs program you cite has reduced in-hospital suicide rates, the overall veteran suicide rate continues to climb.

Providing adequate funding for humane, compassionate mental healthcare and reducing the availability of guns will do far more to reduce suicide rates than removing patients’ privacy curtains.

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Bruce Kagan, M.D., Los Angeles

The writer is a professor of psychiatry at UCLA. The opinions here are his own and not those of UCLA.

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To the editor: As someone who was hospitalized several times during my early 20s, mostly on 51-50 enforced treatment for bipolar disorder, I witnessed firsthand the abject bleakness of spending time with other aggressive, menacing denizens who preyed upon weaker patients, both physically and sexually.

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A surprising number of sexual assaults occurred in showers, bathrooms and group bedrooms late at night while minimal staff is doing paperwork behind glass, too isolated to notice.

The potency of drugs administered, thorazine and worse, renders patients into near-zombie states. Many sleep 18 hours a day, with an understaffed nursing group barely aware. Individual counseling was nonexistent.

It seems these psych wards excel at providing a bed, mediocre food and some semblance of a fragmented life for detainees. Inpatient deaths are a tragic consequence, as your front-page article illustrates.

To me, the awful experience was similar to being in jail. The brutal suffering, inhumanity and general pain will never be eliminated from my memory.

Kyle Kimbrell, Playa del Rey

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To the editor: After more than 50 years in the practice of psychiatry, I have this to offer.

Sadly, it boils down to inattention, both by insufficient personnel to provide observation and supervision in psychiatric facilities and jails, as well as indifference and dereliction of duty upon the part of some personnel who are present.

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This phenomenon is ubiquitous in most if not all areas of life. So many “workers” are there only for their paychecks and care little or nothing about the purpose of their employment.

How do you guarantee motivation?

Harvey W. Oshrin, M.D., Vista


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