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Guidelines for Addressing Mental Health Emergencies

Editor’s Note:

Some parishes are reluctant to reach out to people with mental illness because they do not feel competent to handle emergency situations. The protocol given below is a proactive measure developed by one parish to help its members be prepared if an emergency arises.

The Rev. Mike Tanner, who worked for a number of years with a parish known for its inclusion of people with mental illness, the Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta, reminds us that having to use such a protocol is a rare event. He believes that Holy Comforter has been somewhat successful in fostering an environment in which people feel that they belong to the community. He believes “Once there is a feeling of belonging, there is investment in the community that tempers the behavior even of people with mental health issues. The key to inclusion must start with the will to embrace the difficult, disruptive, and disconcerting other. That doesn’t guarantee a happy or fully satisfying outcome, but there can’t be one without it.”

Guidelines for Addressing Mental Health Emergencies From Christ Episcopal Church, Toms River, New Jersey

The following guidelines are to be used by clergy and staff in the event of a Mental Health emergency.

  1. Whenever possible, try to involve the assistance of another adult who is present (fellow clergy person, staff member, or parishioner). There is safety in numbers.
  2. The primary goal is to stabilize the situation and de-escalate heightened emotional states.
  3. Remember, NEVER use any form of physical restraint on the agitated person. NEVER physically intercede with any type of physical altercation between two or more people.
  4. Speak to the person calmly, slowly, and compassionately; try to understand what has caused this person to suddenly become so upset. At the same time, you need to clearly establish limits and boundaries. It may become necessary to advise the person that the police may need to be called if the person becomes violent, threatening in any fashion, or is unwilling to follow your directives.
  5. Whenever it is safely possible, try to relocate the person away from a crowded situation. If the emergency were to take place in Church or the Chapel, ask the person to step outside of that space to a hallway or other unoccupied area. Removing the person to a different space is very helpful in the de-escalation process.
  6. If there is a verbal altercation/conflict between two or more people, it is very important that you take control of the situation quickly by firmly instructing each of them to physically move away from each other. Speak to each person separately; give them equal opportunity to tell their side of the story.
  7. Remember, never hesitate to contact the police (particularly if you are dealing with a situation alone). Safety is always the primary concern. Whenever possible, you should carry your cell phone in a concealed place (i.e. your pocket) and have it turned on and set to “vibrate.”
  8. If the person appears to be too irrational to reason with, appears to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, is violent, or seems out of touch with reality, the police should be contacted immediately and advised that there is a Mental Health emergency that requires hospitalization.
  9. Following any type of Mental Health emergency, Mother Joan should be contacted immediately (555-555-5555) and advised of the situation. You will be asked to write a brief narrative of the event, which will include your signature and the date of the incident.
For more information contact:
Christ Episcopal Church
415 Washington Street
Toms River, New Jersey, 08753