What happens to the person in need of psychiatric help?

WorkplaceLast week I received a few questions in response to one of my articles from PsychCentral. I appreciated them so much that I decided to answer them here. Hopefully they will prove to be helpful for you too. As always, feel free to ask questions and engage. That’s how we learn.

What does an intervention look like?

An “intervention” can be a difficult thing when it comes to mental health care because many individuals are unlikely to seek treatment on their own. We have state laws that prevent individuals age 14 (in many states) and 18+ from getting timely and appropriate treatment in mental health facilities unless they are:

  1. A clear and present danger to self or others (i.e., have a detailed suicide or homicide plan and have access to weapons).

Without this #1 criteria being met, it is unlikely that a mental health facility or even a hospital will cater to a family’s cry for help regarding an ill loved one. In many families, an “intervention” will include a family member speaking with the ill loved one, asking them to seek help. In many cases, the answer is “no, I do not need help!” In such cases, the individual will not get help unless they commit a crime (in which they will likely be incarcerated multiple times first) or commit themselves.

How can a loved one arrange it?

This is also a difficult question because no individual can “arrange” to have a loved one helped, unless that individual is a minor. The individual, if age 14+, must be willing to accept treatment. If the individual refuses, treatment is unlikely to occur. You can find more information on this subject from The Treatment Advocacy Center or by reading my articles from blogs.psychcentral.com/caregivers.

If, however, you are trying to “arrange” for a minor to receive treatment, you would have to request what is called a Psychiatric Assessment. Most Psychiatric assessments (also called initial assessments) are screenings in which multiple mental health professionals ask questions, delve into the child’s history, talk with the family (and sometimes teachers and extended family members), and conclude with a diagnosis in order to offer services. The first step to receiving help for a minor (or a compliant adult) would be to request a psychiatric assessment. You can inquire about such services through your local hospital or by contacting a local mental health clinic. You can find information on free psychiatric assessments and other services in my book.

What would happen with the person in need of help?I wonder whether sometimes fears and lack of knowledge about these processes prevent people from seeking the supports they and their loved one may need and benefit from?

This is a great question. The answer to your first question is…it depends. In many cases, if an adult or 14yr old is in need of help and won’t comply, they may never receive treatment. If you are referring to what happens when the person is hospitalized or receiving psychiatric services, the answer is…it depends. In many cases an individual will be assessed (during a psychiatric assessment), offered a mental health referral (where services can be received), a diagnosis (what the healthcare professionals believes is the main problem), and in some cases may be encouraged to sign themselves into a hospital for more aggressive treatment. Medication is also sometimes recommended in addition to group therapy. All of this depends on the type of mental health professional you see, their style, their belief system, and your needs. It’s never easy to determine what will happen.

Your second question is very common, primarily because of the stigma attached to the mental health system and the horror stories so prevalent in our history. You are right, however. Many people stay away from the mental health system because of fears and lack of knowledge about what will happen. Because of this, it may be useful for you or your loved one to call a mental health therapist and ask them for a free consultation so that you can ask questions, become more knowledgeable, and feel comfortable.

The best thing to do to reduce fears is to become knowledgeable. Read as much as you can about mental health services, talk to others, sign up to a support group who can help you (NAMI.org), and finally, try it. If you have a loved one who is afraid, they may need some “exposure therapy.” What I mean by this is that your loved one may need to see what goes on in a clinic, talk to a therapist or professional, or sit in on a support group meeting.

The system is tough, no one is there to explain everything a person needs to know, and many families feel alone. But the best tool, which you’ll find I preach a lot about, is self-knowledge. Learn all you can.

Thanks for your questions and contributions.

All the best