Psychiatric Crises: Alternatives to the ER

psychiatric crisesIndividuals who find themselves in emotional distress often turn to a hospital’s emergency room for help; however, many ERs are ill-equipped to handle people with emotional wounds, as physical ones are their specialty.[1] A new study has shown that people who are in a psychiatric crisis may be better served in an alternative, recovery environment instead.1

Researchers interviewed 18 voluntary participants who spent time at The Living Room—an outpatient, voluntary program in the Chicago suburb of Skokie for persons in emotional distress.1 The program is staffed by licensed professional counselors, registered nurses, and trained peer counselors.1 The building is furnished like the living room in people’s homes, for comfort, hence its name.1

Those interviewed included the professional clinical staff, peer counselors, and patients who were in a crisis, suffering with diagnoses from depression to Asperger’s syndrome.1

Researchers wrote, “Participants in our study had experiences as either a person in emotional distress who went to an emergency department for help, or as a person who worked with persons in emotional distress in these settings. The experiences of emergency departments for persons in emotional distress were characterized by feelings of insecurity, loneliness, intimidation, fear, and discomfort. Participants described feeling unsupported by emergency department staff.”1

Individuals experiencing emotional distress often come from a chaotic environment, in need of a safe and calm place where they will receive the proper attention and treatment.1 At places like The Living Room, they are able to come, stay a few hours to receive treatment and support, and leave.1 Peer counselors make these places unique, as they have experienced mental health issues and are specifically trained to support patients.1 Patients can see, through them, that recovery is possible.1

The Living Room helped individuals in psychiatric crises address their issues within the context of their life, helping them to utilize their own strengths to talk through problems, calm down, and problem-solve.1 Individuals who had experience at The Living Room reported feeling welcomed as a human, not just a patient.1 A non-judging zone, everyone responded well to their treatment and support.1

However, treatment facilities like this are scarce in the United States, and alternative crisis intervention has not gained recognition by much research, despite the drastically lower cost compared to ERs.1

“Patients who were treated in The Living Room were able to successfully manage their emotional crises, which was less expensive, emotional intensive or as intrusive as being treated in an emergency room,” researchers wrote. “This doesn’t mean that medical treatment is not needed, but sometimes, the emotional distress or crisis that results from the intersection of illness and life situations can be addressed without drastic medical intervention or hospitalization.”1

[1] NewsEditor, P. (2014). For Psychiatric Crises, Alternatives to ERs Have Their Advantages. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 17, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/01/15/helping-ers-better-care-for-people-in-crisis-or-with-a-mental-illness/64580.html

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