What Is Emergency Psychiatry?

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  • Written By: Tara Barnett
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 07 July 2019
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Emergency psychiatry is the use of psychiatry in emergency situations, typically involving a hospital or other emergency facility. A psychiatrist may work in an emergency room and treat patients as they come in or may go to the site of the problem. Often, this type of treatment involves individuals who are dangerous to themselves or others or people who are experiencing extreme psychotic symptoms. Even when a patient has a psychiatric condition under control and well maintained, he or she may end up needing emergency psychiatry if problems with medications arise or a sudden change in symptoms occurs.

People who are admitted to a hospital for suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts are often in need of emergency psychiatry. This type of psychiatry typically assesses the individual situation and attempts to come up with an appropriate plan to keep the individual safe. A person who has demonstrated the capacity for violence against others, either by succeeding to act violently or threatening to do so, may also undergo psychiatric evaluation in an emergency capacity. These patients typically do not enter the emergency room of their own free will and may be brought in by police or concerned family members.


Many people who show psychotic symptoms also require emergency psychiatry. These may include delusions, hallucinations, and other abnormal mental functions. It is not uncommon for these symptoms to be related to drug use, but they may also represent the first obvious manifestation of a severe mental illness like schizophrenia. Making educated guesses about the cause of the delusions can be part of the psychiatrist's job.

Anxiety disorders can lead a person to believe that he or she is going to die during a panic attack, sometimes leading the person to go to a hospital. An emergency psychiatrist can often help sort out physical symptoms from those related to anxiety and will be able to offer assistance until the attack passes. People with anxiety disorders that are so severe that they lead to hospitalization often find that more sustained psychiatric treatment is necessary. If the anxiety is related to a specific event or situation, talking about that event may be helpful even while in the hospital.

Some diseases present with psychiatric symptoms, and emergency psychiatry can be helpful when making a diagnosis in these cases. In certain situations, psychiatry can be used to help determine if an injury was the result of abuse or an accident. Generally, it is understood that an emergency situation is not the ideal place to conduct psychiatric evaluation, and all determinations must be made tentatively, with appropriate follow-up evaluations recommended.



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