Behavioral Health Services’ treatment helps suicide survivor cope

Behavioral-Health-Services-treatment-helps-suicide-survivor-copeBy Debra Gruszecki
L.E. slit her wrist, parked her car in the middle of the Coronado-San Diego Bay Bridge, said a prayer and jumped into pitch-black nothingness. The aspiring graphic design artist had tried to take her life twice before. She’d grown weary of battling a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and an OxyContin addiction that flared after a snowboard accident.

For years, she shuffled in and out of psychiatric offices across multiple states with medication regimens that, for her, led nowhere.

“I didn’t have any energy for the ‘lows’ anymore,” she says. “The next thing I knew I was caught in a current with a broken neck, a broken pelvis and my right leg floating above my head.”

Inpatient and Outpatient Services
St. Catherine Hospital operates Community Healthcare System’s Behavioral Health Services inpatient and intensive outpatient care. Behavioral Health Services provides a contemporary approach to psychiatric care in a hospital setting for patients with anxiety disorders, obsessive- compulsive disorder, depression, suicidal tendencies or thoughts, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia and treatment-resistant psychiatric disorders. Their goal is to accelerate recovery and prepare patients to transition back into the community through a healing environment and evidence-based psychotherapy.

Inpatient services include treatment by a board-certified psychiatrist, medication management, nursing and therapy services, discharge planning, assistance with emergency orders of detention and coordination of follow-up care.

“We have a highly-skilled team in place to treat the mind, body and spirit of our patients,” says Leo Correa, CEO. “When it matters most, Behavioral Health Services patients take comfort knowing they’ll be treated with dignity and kindness as our care team finds the most effective medication and therapy plans to manage their health symptoms and conditions.”

New Treatments
After two years of program expansion, St. Catherine Hospital’s care team in 2017 began offering electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a procedure done under general anesthesia to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses. The hospital also began to extend ketamine treatment to a select group of patients with treatment-resistant depression.

Around that time, L.E. was referred to Joseph Fanelli, MD, a psychiatrist and medical director for the Behavioral Health Services program, by another doctor who told Fanelli L.E.’s mental health was deteriorating despite 15 rounds of ECT at another facility.

“ECT is considered by many behavioral health providers to be the gold standard for treating profound depression,” Fanelli explains, but L.E. was treatment-resistant to this procedure. “She had little, if any relief from other conventional treatments.”

Her family told Fanelli that their daughter had been given a ketamine treatment for pain while she was recovering from the suicide attempt; and it was one of her better days in recovery.

“We decided to try ketamine,” Fanelli recalls. “We saw dramatic improvement by the second treatment.”

L.E. had six standard treatments at St. Catherine Hospital and Fanelli says, her depression has remitted.

“For some patients, this treatment can be lifesaving,” Fanelli explains.

Ketamine has been shown to be well over 75 to 90 percent effective against suicidal thoughts within minutes to hours. The dissociative drug allows patients to react less to their impulses and separates their thoughts and emotions and their reactions to their emotions.

The therapy is not prescribed without serious thought, however. Since it is a new development, patients pay out of pocket.

Ketamine is reserved for the most severe illnesses, Fanelli explains.

L.E. says she’s had great results from the therapy at St. Catherine Hospital, and her life has changed dramatically for the better.

“I saw improvement in my disposition right way, and with the help of monthly ketamine booster treatments,” she says. “I’m back doing the work I love as a freelance photographer and graphic designer.”

We are Here to Help
If you or a loved one is feeling lethargic and sad, Behavioral Health Services of Community Healthcare System can help. To learn more, visit