Psychiatric Emergencies

  • Alan Butler
  • Colin Pritchard
Part of the Practical Social Work book series


By dictionary definition, an emergency is any sudden state of affairs which demands immediate action. In psychiatric terms there are at least three ways of looking at such an event:
  1. (1)

    the medical viewpoint. Doctors and hospitals are used to coping with physical emergencies in the course of their daily work. Therefore, when some abnormal mental state is the cause of the emergency the remedy is most frequently seen in terms of some form of medical intervention, usually implying the administration of drugs.

  2. (2)

    the psychological viewpoint. This is less concerned to classify overt symptoms and more willing to see the person in distress as somehow failing to cope with some stressful situation. This failure to cope may be due to the sheer size and impact of the stress or indicative of some breakdown of the usual defensive mechanisms, either because the ego is underdeveloped and therefore vulnerable, or because it has been undermined by illness.

  3. (3)

    the social worker’s viewpoint. An emergency may be seen as being concerned less with the disturbance within one individual than with a breakdown within a system or a wider group. In these terms the focus shifts from a concern with one person and moves to a consideration of that person within the context of friends, neighbours and relatives.



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Copyright information

© British Association of Social Workers 1983

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Butler
  • Colin Pritchard

There are no affiliations available

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