We’re in the midst of an unprecedented mental health crisis. Approximately eight million people die per year as the result of a behavioral health problem or the current opioid crisis, whether by suicide or drug overdose. That’s tens of thousands of people per day.
Emergency departments are having a particularly hard time with these cases. One in eight visits is related to a mental health or substance use disorder — and naturally, it’s difficult to provide proper psychiatric treatment in settings that were designed for medical care. It doesn’t help that many emergency rooms are poorly integrated and ill-connected to the rest of the medical community.
Behavioral Health Issues in Emergency Rooms
In the US alone, about one in five adults experience mental illness each year — a number that is expected to increase.
Behavioral health encompasses all issues that fall under the psychological umbrella. Someone who is facing mental health struggles may be dealing with anything from depression and anxiety to addiction to learning disabilities to relationship problems or mood disorders. These issues often begin in the mind but can also have physical manifestations.
For instance, someone in the middle of a panic attack may experience shortness of breath, weakness, chills, sweating, trembling, and a racing heart. Considering their physical symptoms and the current widespread psychiatric care shortage, many patients turn to an emergency department in the belief that there is nowhere else to turn.
Unfortunately, emergency rooms are not usually an ideal setting for those with behavioral health challenges. These high-stress, fast-paced environments can be triggering, with their bright lights and sensory exposure to graphic injuries. This is the exact opposite of the calming, centering environment required in the midst of a psychiatric episode; it intensifies negative emotions and ultimately worsens the symptoms. What’s more, there tends to be a lack of access to psychiatric care within emergency departments.
The Consequences of Mental Health ER Visits
What’s Being Done to Better Serve Behavioral Health Patients?
Perhaps the biggest disservice to mental health and substance abuse patients is the lack of communication from one provider to the next. If an emergency room had access to the notes, insights, and instructions to reference from a patient’s primary care manager and other clinicians, they’d know how to handle a patient’s episodes in the ER despite a lack of psychiatric resources or training. At the very least, they would be better-equipped to keep patients calm and comfortable as they await longer-term solutions from primary care managers.
These are the reasons today’s medical technology is being geared to address integration issues and make it possible for healthcare professionals across the board to provide consistent, standardized care anywhere in the medical industry. The hope is that this will result in better-quality medical experiences, less-frequent ER visits, and fewer deaths by suicide or substance abuse.