A parent in Oregon has sued a psychiatric treatment center for her son’s suicide. The center admitted him after he expressed suicidal thoughts. A second doctor evaluated him a few hours later, found that he was not an imminent threat to himself, and the hospital discharged him. The teen later killed himself.
I know nothing about the facts of this case or about Oregon law, but I do know that residential treatment centers have a difficult job. On the one hand, no one wants a tragedy like this. On the other hand, various laws require that we grant patients, even teenagers, autonomy and not keep them confined against their will. It also does not take long for a teenager to learn the standard warning signs of active suicidal ideation and hide them from parents and therapists. I know more than one story of teenagers who learned how to say what they needed to say to avoid involuntary commitment, and then attempt suicide. Knowing what children are thinking is an art, not a science.
There is no easy way to avoid these tragedies. Treatment programs must stay vigilant, stay on top of the standards of care for their profession, keep up with the research in the field, and get as much information as possible from as many different sources as possible. Sometimes, all we can do is all we can do.