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What can we expect during an emergency room visit?

When your child is having a mental health emergency, it's important to get help right away. When a child is unsafe and might hurt themselves or others, the ER is a place to stabilize unsafe behaviours, thoughts and feelings.

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.

One important thing to remember is that the ER takes care of all kinds of emergencies where there is a threat to a person's life. 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 visiting the ER:

In the Emergency Department: 

  • You will meet different health care providers. On arrival, a nurse will ask both of you some questions to assess the situation. 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 and this is okay.
  • 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. Be truthful with the ER staff and let your child react naturally. This will allow the ER staff to get a full picture of the situation so your child can get the help they need.
  • 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. Often 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.

When you're leaving the ER:

If you have not spoken with a doctor and don't have enough information, ask to do so. 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. To help you manage at home, the ER staff should let you know about or refer you to services for ongoing support in your community, as well as making an appointment with your family doctor.

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  • Ask what to do if your child needs help again. You can also follow up with a Parent Peer Support Worker in your community or through the Kelty Mental Health Centre. This service is available across the province.
    • If details of the visit weren’t provided to you, you can ask for a written copy. However, if your child has asked for their information to remain private, you may not receive details of their interaction with the ER staff. If your child is willing, they can give permission for any information to be shared with you. In this case, 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 admitted to hospital, please ask the staff for information about what happens next.

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