In Case of Psychiatric Emergency

At Sigma, we deal with urgent situations, those requiring help within days to weeks. But a true psychiatric emergency, where personal safely is at risk, still requires hospital care.

Over the weekend I spoke with a Mom and Dad who are building quickly to crisis with their young adult son. He doesn’t want help. He doesn’t believe he has any problem. When I suggested calling emergency services if things boil over, these parents looked stunned. They have never had to call for emergency help, and the idea is terrifying. They are afraid he would be taken to jail instead of mental health treatment (he can become paranoid and threatening at times). Many people do not know what to do in case of a family psychiatric emergency. If your loved one is in crisis, out of control, threatening to harm him/herself or paranoid and lashing out, what should you do? 

Here are the steps, should you ever need them:

1. If possible, prepare in advance. This is especially true if you have a family member with serious mental illness. Have records and specific information on hand, just in case the need for emergency help ever occurs.
Why is this important? 
If your family member or loved one suffers from an illness that can lead to an acute crisis, planning in advance for such a crisis will help you act rationally and quickly. It will also lead to organized, clear communication with emergency personnel.

2. Stay calm
Why is this important? 
When you get upset, it can be difficult for both you and your loved one in crisis to think clearly. Resist the urge to yell or lash out. Remain as calm as possible to prevent the situation from escalating.

3. Call 9-1-1
Why is this important? 
Getting emergency personnel to the scene as quickly a possible is important, whether that emergency is physical health related (like chest pain) or mental health related. Having trained professionals come to the scene can expedite getting the necessary help your loved one requires.

4. Request personnel with specific mental health emergency training if available
Why is this important? 
Many first response teams include police, fire, and EMS. If police officers or other non-medical personnel are first on the scene, you’ll want to ensure that they have the skills to handle a mentally ill person with care and dignity.

5. Provide evidence. Videos or audio, text messages, hand written notes, eye witnesses, or any specific proof that supports your account
Why is this important? 

Emergency workers are not permitted to detain a mentally ill person unless they personally see evidence that detainment is necessary. This prevents family members from having a loved one falsely detained. However, some people in crisis manage to hide the signs of their distress from emergency workers. It’s important to provide any proof available to support your claim of a crisis.

6. Explain the psychiatric history, including diagnosis and medications taken now or recently stopped. Also, make sure to tell responders if you believe your loved one has used any substances of abuse.
Why is this important? 

Additional information about the nature of the psychiatric problem will help emergency personnel to get help quickly, and target their interventions to address the specific problems occurring. Including information about substance use ensures medical care can be safely given without drug interactions, and allows medical providers to counteract the substance effects in some cases.

7. Request that your loved on be taken to a mental health facility instead of jail. Suggest the name of a facility if you have a preference.
Why is this important? 

When police arrive on a scene and discover any sort of threatening behavior, it is possible they may be inclined to take the individual to jail. It’s important to specify that you want your loved on the receive treatment, not punishment. Although emergency responders may not be able to honor your request of facility, sometimes they are able to take your preferences into consideration.

Posted on October 17, 2016 .