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Mental Health Emergency: What to Expect in the ER

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If you're having a mental health emergency, it's important to get help right away. Though the thought of going to the emergency room (ER) might be daunting, it's often the best way to keep you safe during the crisis. Visiting the ER can connect you with resources that will help you manage and overcome these issues.

Depression and other mental health issues are very common. The National Alliance for Mental Health reported that in 2010, one of every eight ER visits in the U.S. was related to a mental health or substance abuse emergency. If you find yourself in a panic and unable to function, or if you feel like hurting yourself or someone else, you need to go to the ER.

What to Expect in the Emergency Room

The thing to remember about the ER is that it's designed to address all kinds of emergencies, and their first priority is to keep people alive. As a result, the environment may seem a bit chaotic and loud, and it's best to be prepared for that. The staff will ask you some questions -- some may be a bit uncomfortable -- but it's important to answer as honestly as you can in order to get the help you need. In some cases, you may be released from the ER and told to follow up with a mental health professional. In other cases, you might be admitted to the hospital or transferred to a facility that's better equipped to give you the help you need.

Be prepared to stay in the ER for hours. You might even be in the hospital for a few days. If the hospital staff believes you are a danger to yourself, they may temporarily confiscate any items you could use to hurt yourself, so it's best to leave those at home. Here's a short list of what's safe to bring and wear when you're visiting the ER for a mental health emergency.

  • Comfortable clothes, including slip-on shoes.
  • A book or computer tablet for entertainment
  • A phone or computer charger
  • Headphones and soothing music

If you're hospitalized for a mental health emergency, be sure to follow up after you're released. With the help of a mental health professional, you can make a plan to ensure you continue improving, as well as a plan to help you deal if another mental health emergency arises.

How to Involve Your Loved Ones

If you can, bring someone with you when you go to the ER. When you arrive, the very first thing you'll need to do is tell staffers why you're there, and it might be easier to bring someone who can help get that conversation started. You will likely have a long wait, so having someone to sit with you is helpful. It's good to have an advocate who can speak for you, contact other family members as necessary, collect things from home, and help make arrangements for addressing issues at home, such as making sure the pets are fed and childcare is arranged.

There are many things that your loved ones can do to help you through this time, if you choose to allow them. If people offer to help, they can bring food to your family, come to visit you, or even just play games like Words With Friends with you over the internet. These small gestures can help you pass the time and feel more connected to those who care about you.

Thinking Ahead

It's wise to start thinking about getting help before an issue becomes a crisis. Talk to your primary care provider about how you're feeling; they may discuss medicinal intervention or refer you for counseling to help you get a head start on managing these symptoms. If you can establish a working relationship with a mental health professional, you can make a plan for dealing with any crisis. This way, you can work out steps to take if you feel like you're moving toward an emergency situation in order to prevent it or reduce its intensity.

It takes courage, but asking for help can be the first step toward getting better and living more fully. You are not alone in this. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than four million people went to the ER during a mental health crisis in 2013. If you need help, pick up the phone and call. If you have a mental health care provider, call them. If not, find mental health services that may be offered near you. If you have a friend who can take you to the ER, call them. If you need help right away, call 9-1-1. The important thing is to get the help you need as soon as possible.

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