Can you go to the emergency room for mental health? Yes.

While we typically associate trips to the emergency room with things like broken arms or other physical ailments, visits to the ER for mental health crises have been on the rise in recent years.

Mental health conditions that are seen in the ER include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and more. While many are quick to dismiss their crisis, if you’re experiencing any of the following, it may be time to head to your local ER:

  • Your safety is in jeopardy
  • You’re at risk of hurting yourself or someone else
  • You’re experiencing suicidal thoughts or feeling suicidal
  • You’re feeling manic, confused, or paranoid
  • You’re having hallucinations

While the ER is a safe harbor that can provide necessary care, it can be overwhelming for anyone, especially those experiencing a mental health crisis. It’s an environment that’s often loud and busy with long wait times — but you can take comfort in knowing that you’re in the best hands.

What happens when you go to the ER for mental health? Here’s what to expect.

People waiting in line to check into the Emergency room

What to Expect When You Visit the ER for Mental Health

You’ll Undergo a Psychiatric Evaluation

Once you check in at the front desk, where you will provide information regarding insurance and medical history, you will meet for a quick face-to-face assessment to determine the urgency of your situation. Be honest — even if the questions are uncomfortable — because your answers will help inform the care and treatment plan you need.

After waiting, you will undergo a psychiatric evaluation. This will be done by ER staff as well as mental health professionals, likely including a psychiatrist, allowing for a diagnosis and treatment plan. You can expect questions regarding your symptoms as well as your mental health history and any relevant diagnoses.

During this time, the staff will likely contact family, friends, and other necessary professionals, such as therapists or care coordinators to ensure a comprehensive treatment plan.


Staff will Provide a Treatment Plan

Once you have completed all necessary assessments, staff will work together to design the next steps. Treatments could involve medication, counseling, or a referral for treatment once you’ve left the hospital. For those who are believed to be a threat to themselves or those around them, treatment may involve being kept in the hospital, followed by inpatient or outpatient treatment, or a transfer to another available hospital.

Some individuals may be admitted to a crisis stabilization unit (CSU). CSUs are small inpatient centers for those experiencing a mental health crisis or psychiatric emergency and are designed to be a safe, secure environment for recovery — but are less restrictive than an extended inpatient stay.

The goal of a CSU is to stabilize the patient and release them quickly. If you are admitted, please follow up upon your release. Doing so will help you make a plan to monitor your health and improvement and even come up with coping strategies if another emergency arises.

Mental Health Patients Have Options

If you’re at risk of a mental health crisis, it’s best to find help before you have to visit the ER. There are several ways to get help before an issue becomes a crisis, including:

  • Visiting your Primary Care Provider (PCP) and telling them how you’re feeling. If your PCP can’t help, they will more than likely refer you to a mental health professional who can.
  • Search for behavioral health services near you. If you’re not sure what to look for, check your insurance company’s database for in-network providers.
  • Take advantage of online resources, such as Mental Health America’s Resources for Immediate Response. These include 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, Trevor Project, and more.

Above everything, your safety is of the utmost importance.

If you’re in a crisis, don’t be afraid to reach out for help.

Treatment for mental health disorders looks different for every individual. Whether you visit the ER or not, it’s important to seek medical advice from a behavioral health professional to ensure you understand your options. If you or a loved one does end up in an inpatient facility to help treat your mental health disorder, patient safety is paramount.

ObservSMART’s proximity-based compliance technology documents and validates that important observations on patients are completed at the appropriate time and distance, supporting daily workflow and increasing the quality of care. With the help of ObservSMART, the safety of mental patients remains a top priority for staff at all times.