Where to turn for help if someone has mental health crisis

Many patients simply don't know where to get help

By Frank McGeorge, MD - Medical Expert

DETROIT - Emergency departments frequently take care of patients with mental health problems. Often, they find themselves in the emergency department because they simply don’t realize there might be better options available.

Jennifer Peltzer-Jones, PsyD, R.N., is a staff psychologist in the emergency department at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

"I would never say don’t come to the ER if this is a crisis," Peltzer-Jones said.

She suggests there is often a better place to start.

"Either call a suicide prevention hotline, text the crisis text line,which is 741741," Peltzer-Jones said. "The reality is most of the patients who are coming in we are going to refer back out for community treatment so it may be beneficial to seek that treatment first."

Mental health can be looked at in two broad categories, emergency crisis intervention and less acute, longer term treatment.

"If you have someone who is in crisis or you are in crisis yourself, your first call should be to the national suicide prevention hotline. This hotline is staffed with skilled workers who can talk to you to figure out what's going on and what level of intervention you need," Peltzer-Jones said.

When it's not a crisis situation, the best approach to finding help might not occur to many people.

"The first thing that I would recommend for anyone who thinks they aren’t doing so well or they need someone to talk to, the very first thing I would recommend, is to contact your primary care doctor."

She said it’s an important place to start for many reasons.

"Sometimes the symptoms of mental health disorders are mimicking a medical problem and vice-versa," Peltzer-Jones said. "So, before we start down the road of, this is all anxiety, you may need your medical doctor to also check you out to make sure it's not an underlying medical problem you didn’t realize."

Your doctor is also probably familiar with available resources, and often primary care offices have mental health professionals available.

On a practical level, ensuring you have coverage for your mental health care is another important consideration.

"Access to mental health is actually dependent both upon where you live and what your insurance is," Peltzer-Jones said.

If you have insurance, start by looking at your insurance card. Depending on your insurance, you can always call the number on the back of your card or check online to identify behavioral health specialists who are in your network.

If you are looking for resources in your county, Peltzer-Jones has this recommendation,

"Go to www.Michigan.gov and type in behavioral health (county map), then it will actually pull up an entire map, and if you click on the map 'county by county,' it will tell you what your crisis access is and the number for whatever county you're in," Peltzer-Jones said.

Peltzer-Jones has another tip if you don’t have insurance coverage.

"Many universities where you have a doctoral program for psychology -- they have clinics where it's open to the general public for psychotherapy," Peltzer-Jones said.

No matter what, she said don’t be afraid to get help.

"We know the effects of mental health on our overall physical being," Peltzer-Jones said. "It's really hard to manage your diabetes if you're depressed, and it's really difficult sometimes to get through all your cancer treatment if you're anxious and fearful."

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