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How Mental Health Patients are Treated in the Emergency Room

When an individual suffering from mental illness seeks treatment in an emergency room setting, the foremost question in the minds of health care providers is the severity of the episode. This is nearly impossible to assess without a considerable observation period, as well as a full history of the patient’s mental health history becoming available. A medical history may be difficult to obtain, particularly if the mental health patient is rambling or incoherent. In this instance, the patient may be required to remain in the hospital until background information may become available.

A mental health patient is usually made comfortable, and treated with the same measure of respect as other patients. Unless the patient is violent or exhibiting aggressive behavior, restraint of any form, including medicative, is not in order. A small dose of a calming medication may help the patient to relax enough to verbally communicate what the nature of their problem is. Occasionally in a person suffering from long term mental illness an episode may require little more than a medication adjustment to resolve their issues.

Unless a severe mental episode is in progress, most mental health patients treated in the emergency room will be discharged and receive an outpatient follow-up. The exception to this is if it is in the best interest of the patient to become hospitalized because of bizarre behavior, or if the patient is a threat to themselves or others. If a patient expresses a suicidal or homicidal intent, most state laws provide for a mandatory 24 to 72 psychiatric hold. This means those individuals are admitted to a psychiatric unit until they no longer present a danger to themselves or the safety of others.

Many states have also enacted a mental health patient bill of rights into law, ensuring that the civil rights of individuals who may not be able to care for themselves temporarily are not subject to excessive treatment. This includes excessive medication or extreme treatments that the patient has a right to refuse. In these cases if the care provider deems a treatment is necessary and the patients does not agree to it, it must be court ordered after a hearing showing good cause. Most states that subscribe to a mental health patient bill of rights also have a documented grievance procedure in place, again, to protect the civil rights of a patient. Most mental health care providers go to great lengths to make a patient a proactive participant in their treatment program.