When to seek emergency care for a mental health crisis

Mental Wellness Wednesday

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KCAU) – The emergency room is an obvious answer for someone experiencing a life-threatening injury or major health complication, but it can also be a place to turn during a mental health crisis.

This Mental Wellness Wednesday, doctors explain when it may be time to turn to emergency care.

“We see a variety of mental health issues, sometimes it can be interspersed with other medical issues or physical issues as well,” MercyOne Emergency Room Dr. Joe Liewer said.

Dr. Liewer has worked in emergency room care for 23 years, he says mental health issues are incredibly common in the emergency department.  

”Where a patient is having thoughts of wanting to harm themselves or harming others, that’s truly an emergency that we evaluate here in the emergency room,” Dr. Liewer said.

Healthcare professionals treat mental health concerns just like any other ailment they see in the ER.

“We see patients that come in with physical symptoms, we do tests, we rule out issues and may admit patients to the hospital for those physical conditions. It’s the same way with mental health issues. We evaluate patients, we help try to see if someone is a threat to themselves or others, try to see if there is an underlying mental health issue that can be helped. Whether it be with hospitalization or hospital care,” Dr. Liewer said.

If someone is already being treated by a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, they can often reach out to their own doctor during emergencies. But sometimes an ER visit can be a first step to beginning mental health care for someone in crisis.

“We see a lot of people that come in for evaluation for various issues we are assessing whether it be on their own or with police or with family,” Dr. Liewer said. “If family members are concerned about another person in their family or a friend they think might be having those issues, then they should seek help.”

Dr. Liewer says he has seen a steady increase of emergency room visits in recent years, including mental health evaluations. He’s also seen a big increase in substance abuse cases that often involve connecting patients with mental health care for recovery.

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