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What Is a Psychiatric Intervention?

Nicole Etolen
Nicole Etolen

Psychiatric intervention, also called emergency psychiatric treatment, is a type of service provided to those who are an imminent threat to themselves or others. The most common situation involves those who are suicidal. Other types include those who have suddenly become violent, people suffering from a trauma, and patients who experience a sudden break from reality.

Suicidal patients require immediate psychiatric intervention to prevent them from harming themselves. Even if someone mentions thoughts of suicide in passing, it is important to get them help right away. In some cases, suicidal people may not even talk about their plans, but will exhibit other troublesome signs. For example, they may withdraw from family and friends, or start giving away their belongings. Intervening with a potential suicide risk typically involves hospitalizing the person until a team of medical professionals determines the threat has passed.

Suicidal patients require immediate psychiatric intervention.
Suicidal patients require immediate psychiatric intervention.

When someone becomes violent, especially when it occurs without warning in an otherwise stable person, psychiatric intervention is necessary to protect the safety of others around that person. Certain psychological conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia, can lead to unexpected violent outbursts. Intervening by placing the person under psychiatric watch not only protects others, but also protects the patient from committing a crime and ending up in prison.

While preventing patients from harming themselves or others is one of the most common and important aspects of psychiatric intervention, helping trauma victims also plays a large role. Those who survive a traumatic experience, especially when others were not so fortunate, often suffer through a myriad of emotions, ranging from anger to guilt. Intervening as quickly as possible after the experience may give victims the emotional tools they need to deal with the onslaught of feelings as time passes.

When patients experience a sudden break from reality, psychiatric intervention is required to help guide them back to understanding the difference between what is real and what is not. Conditions that can cause a break from reality include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and psychotic depression. In most cases, temporary hospitalization is required until doctors can determine the best course of treatment.

Psychiatric interventions can be both voluntary and involuntary. Patients that are in danger of harming themselves or others can be committed against their will. Patients who are unable to care for their basic needs, such as food, water, and housing, may also be committed against their will. Typically, they can be held for up to 72 hours without an order from a judge.

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Discussion Comments


Psychiatric intervention is usually the last option for many people, but sometimes it's necessary. It really saves lives.

An acquaintance of mine committed suicide last year. We discovered afterward that he was suffering from schizophrenia. He was trying to hide it from everyone and chose to take his life rather than seek help. His family and friends knew something was wrong but no one did anything. If there had been psychiatric intervention, he would have been alive today.


@stoneMason-- I agree with you but I think that the type of intervention described here is something else. Psychiatric intervention is really for people who are so ill that they can no longer make decisions for themselves. If someone is very aggressive or violent and has a high likelihood of harming themselves and others, then psychiatric intervention is probably apt.

Obviously, no one can be held or treated without their permission. The only exception to this is psychiatric restraint or hold and that can only occur with a court decision. If there is enough evidence that someone is very ill and dangerous, then the court may require him or her to be hospitalized and observed.


I don't think that hospitalizing someone who is considering suicide is a good idea. I think that might backfire and end up harming that person's psychology even more. It would be better to talk to them and try to get them help and support with their permission. If I was in that situation, I certainly would not want to be forced to get help involuntarily. That would make me even more angry at the world.

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    • Suicidal patients require immediate psychiatric intervention.
      By: Paolese
      Suicidal patients require immediate psychiatric intervention.