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What Is Acute Psychiatry?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Acute psychiatry is psychiatric intervention that typically occurs on an emergency basis. Patients who seek care from an acute psychiatry unit are usually suffering from sudden and severe psychiatric symptoms. Acute psychiatry usually seeks to ease patients' immediate symptoms and produce a treatment plan, whether the patient is released to return to their homes or committed into a long-term care facility for psychiatric illnesses.

Most psychiatric professionals believe that any sudden, extreme change in behavior may be grounds for emergency psychiatric intervention. These can include hallucinations, extreme feelings of anxiety, paranoia or depression, Patients who are suicidal, violent, or aggressive also need acute psychiatric care.

Mental illness and the consequences of substance abuse are among the most common reasons patients seek treatment in an acute psychiatry facility. Many people suffering mental illness manage to live normal lives most of the time, but may occasionally experience a severe relapse of their symptoms. Some types of mental illness, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety disorders, can occur in patients who were previously healthy. Substance abuse can also lead to the sudden appearance of psychiatric symptoms, especially after a binge on substances or after long-term, heavy substance abuse. Patients experiencing the sudden onset of severe psychiatric symptoms may need medication to relieve their symptoms, and supervision to ensure they don't harm themselves or others.

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People who have experienced psychological trauma due to violence or a disaster of some type may often experience psychiatric symptoms after the event. Acute psychiatry professionals often try to be on hand immediately following natural disasters and other traumatic events. They seek to help the individuals involved to procure appropriate treatment for any psychological trauma as soon as possible. In a disaster setting where damage and injury have been widespread, medical professionals are usually obliged to focus on treating physical injuries first. Individuals who have been the victims of targeted violence are usually offered emergency psychiatric care, along with emergency medical care, in hospitals.

People with personality disorders may also benefit from the services of emergency psychiatric units. Personality disorders, like other mental illnesses, can cause bouts of extreme symptoms in between long periods of relative normalcy. While many of these people don't realize that their symptoms are psychological in origin, psychiatric treatment can help keep them and others safe.

Treatment in acute psychiatry units usually lasts for only a few days or weeks. Professionals use the time to relieve symptoms and assess psychiatric conditions. This is generally done through observation, medical and psychiatric exams, examination of medical and psychiatric history, and sometimes through limited psychotherapy. Professionals then typically form a treatment plan, which may include institutionalizing the patient if necessary, or sending the patient home to seek outpatient treatment if possible.

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