What can we expect during an emergency department visit?
When your child is having a mental health emergency, it's important to get help right away.
It may be very stressful to take your child to the emergency room (ER). But, it can be the best way to keep your child safe. It might be an important part of getting the services and diagnosis your child needs, especially if mental health challenges are new for your child.
One important thing to remember is that the ER takes care of all kinds of emergencies. Their first priority is to treat life-threatening issues. Their focus will be on dealing with the immediate concern and safety of your child.
Here are a few tips and things to know about the visit:
In the Emergency Department:
- You will meet different health care providers. On arrival, a nurse will ask both of you some questions to see how quickly your child needs to see a doctor. Your child will be assigned a nurse and later assessed by a doctor. If needed, and if available, a psychiatrist might be included in your child’s care.
- Health care providers may talk to you and your child separately, depending on your child's age. Your child may choose to speak privately with the treatment team.
- Be prepared to answer questions. The staff will ask questions about your main concerns and what was happening that caused you to come to the ER. You and your child may find that questions can be uncomfortable and hard to answer. But, it is really important to answer honestly. The ER staff need this information. Don’t hold back on details. It is important to say how bad it really is, to get the help your child needs. This is the best place for your child to show their behaviour (upset, angry, withdrawn, etc.). So be truthful with the ER staff and let your child react naturally. This is not the time to want them on their best behaviour.
- Write things down. Sometimes it can be hard to remember all of the important details and communicate them to a nurse or doctor. If possible, write down what is going on ahead of time, or while you wait.
- Expect to wait in the ER. This can be really frustrating when you feel your child needs help now. It can even be tempting to leave. But remember, if you’re worried about your child’s safety, the ER is the best place to be, even if there’s a wait. If your child’s condition changes while waiting, tell the nursing staff. Sometimes there is a private area or room for patients with mental health concerns that is calmer and quiet.
- Bring things with you. Bring more than you think you will need to keep your child occupied and comfortable, if possible. Bring food, water and something for yourself as well. A phone charger is also a good idea, as well as a charger for any device your child may bring. Be prepared to stay for many hours. Also bring your child’s current medications.
- Upon arrival, indigenous families are encouraged to ask if there is an Indigenous Liaison Worker available. Many hospitals have an Indigenous Patient Liaison/Navigator who can advocate for you, and help connect you with cultural supports. For example, learn more about the Indigenous Patient Liaison's at BC Children's Hospital.
Admitted to Hospital or Going Home:
You can’t always know what the outcome of an ER visit will be. Your child may be admitted to the hospital, or they may be sent home.
To help you manage at home, the ER staff should work with you to develop plans. This includes reviewing the emergency visit and making a safety plan for what to do if your child needs immediate help again. They should also let you know about or refer you to services for ongoing support in your community.
- It’s okay to ask questions. If you are unsure about the follow-up plan or what happens next, ask ER staff to explain. It is important that you understand what is expected of you, like making appointments, filling prescriptions, and following up with services. Speak up while you are still in the hospital. Don’t let staff rush you out the door if you still have questions or don’t understand something. It may mean a longer wait for you, but ask to speak to them again if you feel it is needed.
- Ask what to do if your child needs help again. Make sure you have a safety plan before you leave the hospital. Ask for it if they have not made one before they discharge you. It needs to tell you what to do if a similar situation arises. For example, if you went to the ER because you were concerned about your child having suicidal thoughts, ask them what to do if your child’s suicidal thoughts get worse or continue.
- If details of the visit weren’t provided to you, you can ask for a written copy. Some details might include a list of medications, or referral information for other services.
- If ER staff spoke with your older child or youth without you in the room, ask them to go over what the plan is with you. Ask for your own copy of any referral information and phone numbers. Don’t rely on your child to pass on accurate information - this is overwhelming for them too. The staff may not discuss specifics, but should be able to give you a general plan. If your child is willing, they can give permission for any information to be shared with you.
If your child is admitted to hospital, please ask the staff for information about what happens next.Read Less