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Suicide: Emergency psychiatric consultation

Transferring a high-risk patient

Be prepared for the transfer of a high-risk patient to an emergency psychiatric consultation:

  • Do not leave the patient alone.
  • Place the patient in as safe an environment as is possible.
  • Tell the patient you want him or her to be seen by a psychiatrist as soon as possible.
  • Call for an urgent consultation.
  • Give the emergency room physician or the on-call psychiatrist as much information as you can, including any history of psychiatric disorders, past suicide attempts, family history of suicide attempts, current stressors, current medical conditions and medications. Whenever possible send a brief note. Example:

This 45-year-old male patient has a history of serious unipolar depression with one suicide attempt in the past. He is currently going through a difficult divorce, is depressed and expressing hopelessness, suicidal intent, with a plan to overdose on his antidepressants. He is medically well except for mild hypertension. His current medications are: hydrochlorothiazide 25 mg per day, and sertraline 150 mg per day.

  • Have your staff call a family member or friend of the patient.

If the patient is co-operative and wants help

A patient who is co-operative can be transferred to hospital as a voluntary patient with a responsible family member or friend. Some emergency rooms will expect you to have done a basic "medical clearance." This usually involves questioning the patient about drug ingestion, and doing vitals and a basic neurological examination.

Keep track while the patient is on the way to the emergency room:

  • Let the emergency room know when the patient leaves your office and when they should expect the patient to arrive.
  • Ask to be called if the patient does not arrive within a reasonable time.
  • If the patient does not arrive, call the patient's home.
  • If you cannot locate the patient, call police and tell them your concerns, and ask them to apprehend and take the patient to the nearest emergency room.

Familiarize yourself with your jurisdiction's mental health legislation to be able to use its powers appropriately to help your patients.

If the patient is not co-operative

If the patient refuses to go to the emergency room, tell them that you are very concerned and that you are obliged by law to ensure their safety. Call police and request that they take the patient to the nearest emergency room. Be prepared to give a description if the patient leaves your office. Do not try to physically stop the patient.

Psychiatry in primary care toolkit

The Psychiatry in Primary Care App has been decommissioned. 

The revised print version of Psychiatry in Primary Care is avaible through the CAMH store. 

We have posted a number of revised chapters from the book in Treating Conditions and Disorders in the new Professionals section of