What to Do In a Mental Health Emergency
Many people are confused about what to do in the face of a mental health emergency. What constitutes a mental health emergency? As with any medical emergency, a mental health emergency can be life threatening. Most of the time mental health emergencies are those involving the threat of suicide or the occurrence of an actual suicide attempt. Other types of mental health emergency may involve the threat of harm to another person. In a situation where a patient is decompensating or becoming psychotic and is being guided by audio/visual hallucinations, it is sometimes possible that there is a threat posed to another person. This is relatively rare but it can happen if someone is extremely agitated, on hallucinatory drugs or is in the grip of an extremely serious psychotic episode with paranoid thoughts that others are planning to harm the individual.
Friends, family, and neighbors are often confused about what to do in the event of such an emergency because they do not who to call for help. Generally, people expect to call their doctor’s office and get an emergency appointment if someone has a high fever or another type of physical symptom. However, it mostly unlikely that anyone can call their psychiatrist for an appointment under the circumstances above. Most psychiatrists are not equipped to handle emergencies in their private offices. That is why when people attempt to call their therapist during off hours they usually hear a recorded message instructing them to go to the emergency room in the event of a crisis.
When someone is in the midst of a severe emotional crisis characterized by suicidal or homicidal intent it is unlikely that they will willingly go to the emergency room even if accompanied by a friend or family member. That is why it is most often necessary to call emergency services at 911 and report that someone is in danger of attempting suicide or has already swallowed pills, cut themselves or done something life threatening. Emergency services in most communities will then send both the police and an EMT ambulance to the site of the reported threat. Both police and the EMT workers will assess the situation and decide whether or not the person needs hospitalization. If the threat is deemed as serious as the phone call indicated they will bring the patient to the hospital emergency room where they will undergo further evaluation and wait until arrangements are made in a local psychiatric facility. Once moved to a psychiatric hospital the patient will be medicated and stabilized until the crisis has passed. The treatment usually includes meetings with the psychiatrist and attendance at group psychotherapy sessions. Once the patient is deemed safe the psychiatric hospital will either return the person home with medication and with recommendations for continued treatment. This process includes meetings with the family members of the patient.
It is extremely important that threats of suicide be taken seriously. This is especially true if the threats have been voiced repeatedly or the person is inebriated or under the influence of drugs. It is a dangerous myth to believe that suicide threat are harmless attempts to get attention. I know of a recent case in which someone repeatedly threatened suicide, no one would listen and the individual, in despair, succeeded in their suicide attempt.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are committed to improving crisis services and advancing suicide prevention by empowering individuals, advancing professional best practices, and building awareness.
Know the Risk Factors
- Mental disorders, particularly mood disorders, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, and certain personality disorders
- Alcohol and other substance use disorders
- Impulsive and/or aggressive tendencies
- History of trauma or abuse
- Major physical illnesses
- Previous suicide attempt(s)
- Family history of suicide
- Job or financial loss
- Loss of relationship(s)
- Easy access to lethal means
- Local clusters of suicide
- Lack of social support and sense of isolation
- Stigma associated with asking for help
- Lack of healthcare, especially mental health and substance abuse treatment
- Cultural and religious beliefs, such as the belief that suicide is a noble resolution of a personal dilemma
- Exposure to others who have died by suicide (in real life or via the media and the Internet)
Know the Warning Signs
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Extreme mood swings
Find Behavioral Health Services
The Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) was created as Utah’s substance abuse and mental health authority. DSAMH oversees the publicly funded prevention and treatment system. If you, a friend, or family member is struggling with a mental health problem or a problem with alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, there is help available
Also known as, the Treatment Referral Routing Service, this Helpline provides 24-hour free and confidential treatment referral and information about mental and/or substance use disorders, prevention, and recovery in English and Spanish
Other Crisis Resources
1-800-273-8255 / Press 1
Text to 838255
The Trevor Project provides support to LGBTQ young people 24/7.
801-587-3000, TTY: 801-587-8511
801-587-1055 – 3:00p – 11:00p
The Warm Line is a recovery support line available daily from 3 p.m.–11 p.m. Certified peer specialists provide callers within Salt Lake County with support, engagement, and encouragement. They promote wellness in a nonjudgmental and respectful manner by listening, empowering a person to resolve his or her own problem, and fostering a sense of hope, dignity, and self-respect.
Help Is Available
If you are requesting help for a mental health crisis when calling 911 ask for a CIT (Crisis Intervention Team) Officer- they are specially training to help with someone in a mental health crisis.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
Find Local Crisis Support
Mental Health Crisis Lines operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and are open to anyone needing mental health crisis services.
Click on the map above for crisis counseling, mental health information, and referrals in your county. All calls are confidential and may be made anonymously.
|County||Crisis Phone Number|
|Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane||(800) 574-6763|
|Box Elder||(435) 452-8612|
|Cache, Rich – After Hours||(435) 752-0750(435) 757-3240|
|Daggett, Uintah||(435) 828-8241|
|Emery||911 or (435) 381-2404|
|Juab, Millard, Piute, Sanpete, Sevier, Wayne After Hours||(800) 523-7412(877)-469-2822|
|Salt Lake UNI||(801) 587-3000|
|San Juan||(435) 979-1588|
|Weber & Morgan||(801) 625-3700|