A crisis center is a hospital for people who are at a high mental health risk. You should call a crisis center or 9-1-1 if someone is at risk of causing harm to themselves or others, intentionally or otherwise.
What is a crisis unit?
A crisis unit, sometimes known as a psychiatric screening center, is a site where someone who is having a psychiatric, or mental health, emergency can go to stabilize their issue and be screened to determine whether at least temporarily they would be safer in a more structured and supervised setting.
Most crisis units can be found in the emergency room of a hospital, but not all are run by the hospital. Some are run by agencies that specialize in mental health issues but that are given space in the hospital emergency room. Crisis units are typically staffed by both medical and mental health professionals.
When to go to a crisis unit
There are several circumstances that would make a trip to the crisis unit necessary. These are some:
- When someone with a diagnosed mental health issue, whose symptoms are usually under control, is no longer able to control them by their usual methods and it is impairing their daily functioning and their regular psychiatrist is not available
- When someone is experiencing psychotic symptoms; when they have lost contact with reality
- When someone is having uncontrollable thoughts of wanting to hurt or kill themselves or others
- When someone is actively suicidal; in other words when they are currently making attempts to kill themselves
- When someone has made a suicide attempt
A person who comes to the crisis unit usually needs to be seen by a medical doctor before they are seen by a mental health screener. This helps the professionals to understand what medical issues might be contributing to or co-existing with the mental health issue. Depending on how busy the emergency room is at that time, there could be a lengthy wait.
Once the person is “cleared” medically, he/she and his/her family, if they are present, will meet with a state-certified mental health screener to better understand what the person is experiencing and what his/her needs are. The staff, the client, and the family will all work together to develop a plan to best meet the needs that have been identified, and to try to return the individual to his/her prior level of functioning as quickly as possible. The plan is typically to return the individual to his/her own home and community, but this is not always possible right away. Sometimes the individual may need to remain in a hospital setting for a few days, and in some instances even longer.
When a hospital stay is indicated, the mental health team usually asks the individual to voluntarily sign him/herself into the hospital. If, however, the individual is dangerous to him/herself or someone else he/she might be involuntarily admitted to the hospital for up to 72 hours when his/her mental health status will be reviewed again to determine whether a longer stay is needed.
Where is there a crisis unit?
There is at least one crisis unit in each county in the state of New Jersey. For the crisis unit closest to you click here
In some instances, the crisis unit is able to reach out to individuals who are in need of a mental health screening, but are not able to access the emergency room. This service may not be available in all areas, however.
In the event that a crisis unit is not in the closest and the individual is in need of immediate care, the emergency room of any hospital would be the safest place for that individual. The hospital can transfer the individual to the crisis unit if needed.