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Mental health

Emergency mental healthcare

If a person's mental or emotional state gets worse quickly, this can be called a mental health emergency or mental health crisis. In this situation, it's important to get help quickly to stop the person harming themselves or others.

Mental health emergencies can include:

  • threats of suicide or self-harm
  • self-neglect, such as stopping eating or drinking
  • aggressive behaviour
  • being extremely distressed 
  • going missing

In an emergency, you may need to contact someone for help. The care plan of the person you care for (usually drawn up under the Care Programme Approach if they have severe mental health problems) should contain details of who to contact in a mental health emergency.

If this isn't in their care plan, call their GP first. If you need urgent help when the GP surgery is closed, you should be able to call an out-of-hours service for help. The details will be given on a recorded message if you call the GP surgery when it's closed, or you may be automatically put through to the out-of-hours service.

If the person is known to the community mental health team (CMHT), it is likely that they will have an assigned care co-ordinator or mental health worker. Contact them or, if you need urgent help out of hours, you should be able to speak to a duty worker, usually on the same number.

If you cannot find who to contact, your local social services has a mental health crisis team, which is available both in and out of hours. Contact details will be available through your local council. 

If you think there is any immediate danger, call 999.

If the person you care for has written something on Facebook about struggling to cope or suicide and you can't contact them, you can report the suicidal content to Facebook. Facebook will put Samaritans in touch with the distressed friend to offer their expert support.

How to cope in a mental health emergency

A mental health crisis can be very distressing, even if you've already been through one with the person you care for. If you're struggling to cope, you could contact a crisis support service such as Samaritans.

If you feel you are in immediate danger, go somewhere you feel safe, such as a friend or relative's house.

It's a good idea to prepare for a mental health emergency before one happens. Having a care plan in place with 24-hour contact numbers will be very helpful. Find out more about getting a care plan. In the meantime, keep any numbers for out-of-hours services or crisis teams where you can easily find them.

Ask for a carers' assessment for yourself so you can make sure your caring duties are covered if you have an emergency and are unable to fulfil your usual caring role.

Carer emergency schemes

If a carer becomes ill, has an accident or personal crisis such as a funeral, a transport delay or a last-minute appointment, they may be unable to carry out their caring duties. An emergency plan will outline what should happen in this event and who will ensure the person cared for is safe. This could be a husband, wife, friend or neighbour, for example.

Emergency schemes are often run by your local authority or carers' centre. A typical scheme simply involves registering and having skilled workers help you draw up your emergency plans.

The scheme will keep a copy of the plan and provide a 24-hour response service. You'll be given a card with the scheme's telephone number and often a unique PIN number to avoid any personal details appearing on the card. In an emergency, you or someone with you can call the scheme to put the plan into action.

The telephone operator will look up the individual emergency plan and arrange for replacement care, such as contacting friends or family, or arranging professional help.

Emergency plans are shared so that the individual requirements of the person needing care, such as medication, will be known by whoever provides replacement care.

What happens to someone after a mental health crisis?

Most people who have been through a mental health crisis will receive standard hospital treatment and may leave whenever they choose. Any aftercare may be carried out in the community. However, this will depend on the severity of the crisis and the person's previous history. If a hospital stay is required and their behaviour is considered dangerous, they may be compulsorily detained in hospital under the Mental Health Act. You can read more about this in the section on mental health.


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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

persistence said on 22 September 2014

There is a problem here, many patients suffering from a severe and enduring mental illness, are having their Care Manager Co-ordinators withdrawn, and no longer subject to the CPA Process, despite being subject to a Court of Protection Order. The LA place patients In accommodation that offers little support and none in the evenings or weekends.

What is the answer to this?

The reduction in funding are leaving many carers having to 'pick up the pieces'.

Did you know there is already case law regarding an 'emergency and crisis' assessment.

Concentrate on what is in place, and not re-invent the wheel.

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Page last reviewed: 19/08/2013

Next review due: 19/08/2015

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