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ON what to do in a crisis

Posted Nov 03 2009 10:02pm

The following is from SAMSHA. It describes their idea of the framework to deal with crisis situations. It is well worth reading and thinking about. I look forward to your feedback.

Responding To A Mental Health Crisis Ten Essential Values

Ten Essential Values Are Inherent In An Appropriate Crisis Response, Regardless Of The Nature Of The Crisis, The Situations Where Assistance Is Offered Or The Individuals Providing Assistance:

1. Avoiding harm. Sometimes mental health crises place the safety of the person, the crisis responders or others in jeopardy. An appropriate response establishes physical safety, but it also establishes the individual’s psychological safety. For instance, restraints are sometimes used in situations where there is an immediate risk of physical harm, yet this intervention has inherent physical and psychological risks that can cause injury and even death. Precipitous responses to individuals in mental health crises—often initiated with the intention of establishing physical safety—sometimes result in harm to the individual. An appropriate response to mental health crises considers the risks and benefits attendant to interventions and whenever possible employs alternative approaches, such as controlling danger sufficiently to allow a period of “watchful waiting.” In circumstances where there is an urgent need to establish physical safety and few viable alternatives to address an immediate risk of significant harm to the individual or others, an appropriate crisis response incorporates measures to minimize the duration and negative impact of interventions used.

2. Intervening In Person-Centered Ways. Mental health crises may be routine in some settings and, perhaps, have even come to be routine for some people with serious mental health or emotional problems. Nevertheless, appropriate crisis assistance avoids rote interventions based on diagnostic labels, presenting complaint or practices customary to a particular setting. Appropriate interventions seek to understand the individual, his or her unique circumstances and how that individual’s personal preferences and goals can be maximally incorporated in the crisis response.

3. Shared Responsibility. An acute sense of losing control over events or feelings is a hallmark of mental health crises. In fact, research has shown “feeling out of control” to be the most common reason consumers cite for being brought in for psychiatric emergency care.12 An intervention that is done to the individual— rather than with the individual—can reinforce these feelings of helplessness. One of the principal rationales for person-centered plans is that shared responsibility promotes engagement and better outcomes. While crisis situations may present challenges to implementing shared, person-centered plans, ultimately an intervention that considers and, to the extent possible, honors an individual’s role in crisis resolution may hold long-term benefits. An appropriate crisis response seeks to assist the individual in regaining control by considering the individual an active partner in—rather than a passive recipient of—services.

4. Addressing Trauma. Crises, themselves, are intrinsically traumatic and certain crisis interventions may have the effect of imposing further trauma—both physical and emotional. In addition, people with serious mental illness have a high probability of having been victims of abuse or neglect. It is essential that once physical safety has been established, harm resulting from the crisis or crisis response is evaluated and addressed without delay by individuals qualified to diagnose and initiate needed treatment. There is also a dual responsibility relating to the individual’s relevant trauma history and vulnerabilities associated with particular interventions; crisis responders should appropriately seek out and incorporate this information in their approaches, and individuals should take personal responsibility for making this crucial information available (for instance, by executing advance directives).

5. Establishing Feelings Of Personal Safety. An individual may experience a mental health crisis as a catastrophic event and, accordingly, may have an urgent need to feel safe. What is regarded as agitated behavior may reflect an individual’s attempts at self-protection, though perhaps to an unwarranted threat. Assisting the individual in attaining the subjective goal of personal safety requires an understanding of what is needed for that person to experience a sense of security (perhaps contained in a crisis plan or personal safety plan previously formulated by the individual) and what interventions increase feelings of vulnerability (for instance, confinement in a room alone). Providing such assistance also requires that staff be afforded time to gain an understanding of the individual’s needs and latitude to address these needs creatively.

6. Based On Strengths. Sharing responsibility for crisis resolution means understanding that an individual, even while in crisis, can marshal personal strengths and assist in the resolution of the emergency. Individuals often understand the factors that precipitated a crisis as well as factors that can help ameliorate their impact. An appropriate crisis response seeks to identify and reinforce the resources on which an individual can draw, not only to recover from the crisis event, but to also help protect against further occurrences.

7. The Whole Person. For individuals who have a mental illness, the psychiatric label itself may shape—even dominate—decisions about which crisis interventions are offered and how they are made available. An individual with a serious mental illness who is in crisis is a whole person, whose established psychiatric disability may be relevant but may—or may not—be immediately paramount. That the individual may have multiple needs and an adequate understanding of the crisis means not being limited by services that are compartmentalized according to healthcare specialty. An individual’s emergency may reflect the interplay of psychiatric issues with other health factors.And while the individual is experiencing a crisis that tends to be addressed as a clinical phenomenon, there may also be a host of seemingly mundane, real-world concerns that significantly affect an individual’s response: the whereabouts of the person’s children, the welfare of pets, whether the house is locked, absence from work, and so on.

8. The Person As Credible Source. Assertions or complaints made by individuals who have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness tend to be viewed skeptically by others. Particularly within the charged context of mental health crises, there may be a presumption that statements made by these individuals are manifestations of delusional thinking. Consequently, there is a risk that legitimate complaints relating to such matters as medical illness, pain, abuse or victimization will go unheeded. Even when an individual’s assertions are not well grounded in reality and represent obviously delusional thoughts, the “telling of one’s story” may represent an important step toward crisis resolution.13 For these reasons, an appropriate response to an individual in mental health crisis is not dismissive of the person as a credible source of information—factual or emotional—that is important to understanding the person’s strengths and needs.

9. Recovery, Resilience And Natural Supports. Certain settings, such as hospital emergency departments, may see individuals only transiently, at a point when they are in acute crisis and in a decidedly high-stress environment. Even when not occurring within hospitals, mental health emergency interventions are often provided in settings that are alien to the individual and the natural supports that may be important parts of his or her daily life. It is important not to lose sight of the fact that an emergency episode may be a temporary relapse and not definitional of the person or that individual’s broader life course. An appropriate crisis response contributes to the individual’s larger journey toward recovery and resilience and incorporates these values. Accordingly, interventions should preserve dignity, foster a sense of hope, and promote engagement with formal systems and informal resources.

10. Prevention. Too often, individuals with serious mental illnesses have only temporary respite between crises.An appropriate crisis response works to ensure that crises will not be recurrent by evaluating and considering factors that contributed to the current episode and that will prevent future relapse. Hence, an adequate crisis response requires measures that address the person’s unmet needs, both through individualized planning and by promoting systemic improvements.

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