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Mental health crisis intervention is conducted in numerous ways, and is often a team-led effort to help someone who has become severely mentally ill, either through trauma or through underlying and undertreated mental disorders. Interventions occur over the phone, in hospitals, in jails, in psychiatric emergency facilities or mental hospitals, or in public, if a person is behaving erratically and poses a risk to self or others. These interventions are brief, with a goal of helping the person become calmer and assessing the situation to determine ongoing risk. Additional assessment may determine the most beneficial forms of treatment.
The term "intervention" makes most people think of family and friend-based interventions guided by a therapist or interventionist to convince someone to get medical treatment for illnesses like addiction. It’s possible to stage a mental health crisis intervention of this kind, but this isn’t the usual meaning of the term. Rather, experts in dealing with mental health issues come from outside the family and a confrontational stance could be harmful, especially with a large number of people present. Moreover, a person who is mentally ill may lack the capacity to understand or cope with a large group of family members who are begging the person to get assistance. When experts intervene, they do so to calm and diffuse the situation first, instead of making the ill person feel attacked or guilty, which could escalate the problem.
A mental health intervention team can consist of different experts. These could include therapists, social workers, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses. The most dangerous settings arise when a mentally ill person is threatening or has the real means to hurt oneself or others, and police agencies may handle these scenarios most frequently. Many law enforcement professionals are trained to recognize signs of illness and use different tactics to try to elicit the cooperation of the mentally ill and calm down reactions. These are not always successful, and often there are unfortunate incidents when people are so ill they are unable to listen to police instructions and are harmed or killed.
The hope is that a mental health crisis intervention occurs long before this point, as a result of people simply contacting local community resources, like hospitals or psychiatric emergency centers, for help. In less life-threatening settings, a knowledgeable team determines degree of suicidality or danger they pose to other by people in crisis. They may additionally evaluate how likely it is a person in crisis could follow a contract, be safe at home or with others, and follow up on getting needed assistance.
Crisis intervention should be understood as short term, possibly consisting of one to three or four meetings with the person in crisis. It’s meant to bridge a gap until more lasting resources can be obtained, like getting a therapist or perhaps pursuing hospitalization. In most instances, the goal of the mental health crisis intervention is to help people with immediate needs, reduce crisis impact, and direct people to resources that will address the problems underlying the crisis.
Someone who is in a critical enough state to require that kind of intervention may also be completely unaware of how sick they really are. Someone in the throes of a psychotic episode, for example, may know something is wrong, but does not have enough awareness to understand it is his or her mental illness causing the episode.
The most frequent method of doing an intervention like this is calling the police, who will come out and determine whether the individual is a threat to self or others. If so, they will usually call an ambulance and help the person get to a facility where they will be evaluated for further treatment.