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“I do not want the peace which passeth understanding. I want the understanding which bringeth peace.”

–Helen Keller


  • Identify common mental health emergencies

  • Find out how to perform an emergency mental health assessment

  • Learn about how to aid suicidal patients

  • Examine how to help patients suffering from drug or alcohol dependency or abuse

  • Discover how to assist violent patients

Mental health emergencies are considered to be any disturbance in thoughts, feelings, or actions for which immediate therapeutic intervention is needed. Common adult mental health emergencies include suicidal thoughts or behaviors; alcohol or substance abuse; aggressive behaviors; and mood, anxiety, and psychotic disorders (Kimble, 2008).

Mental health emergencies can occur in any healthcare setting, including clinics, hospitals, and emergency departments. Indeed, more than one-third of patients presenting to emergency departments are there due to mental health issues. Of these mental health emergencies (Stuart, 2009):

  • An average of 20% are related to suicide and/or suicide attempts

  • More than 10% are related to aggressive or violent behavior

  • An estimated 1 million per year are related to drug or alcohol abuse or addictive disorders

Moreover, it is estimated that more than 40% of patients treated for mental health emergencies are hospitalized directly from the emergency department after triage (Stuart, 2009).


Persons with mental health emergencies are distributed evenly according to sex.

Every year, the number of individuals presenting to emergency departments for psychiatric triage due to mental health issues increases. There are several reasons for this increase in mental health emergencies (which are more common in individuals with mental illness). One reason is the de-institutionalization of the chronically mentally ill. This has resulted in large numbers of severely chronically mentally ill patients living in the community rather than residing in mental hospitals as they did in the past. The de-institutionalized chronically mentally ill require frequent monitoring and follow-up care, which they often receive at local clinics, hospitals, and emergency departments.

Other reasons for the increase in the number of individuals seeking psychiatric triage include the following:

  • The general population is getting older. This has brought about an increase in age-related illnesses such as dementia and toxic confusion.

  • There has been a surge in alcohol and substance abuse. Recreational and addictive drug use is epidemic and often results in drug intoxication. Individuals suffering from this condition are often triaged and treated in clinics, hospitals, and emergency departments (Warren, 2009).

  • We live in a very stressful age. Despite economic progress, people today seem to have more stressful lives than ever before. These stressed-out individuals frequently need psychiatric support as well as mental health counseling.


Your goal when responding to any mental health emergency is to teach the patient effective coping strategies and to help the patient restore a sense of balance and self-control. When ...

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