Alternatives to Emergency Department Mental Health Care


When presenting to the emergency department (ED) with a mental health related concern, people are aware that only immediate, short-term support is available or that they may be referred to inpatient, outpatient, or community mental health services.

Among the people we spoke to, many described sometimes feeling guilty when presenting with a mental health related concern because they saw the ED as more appropriate for the treatment of physical injury and illness. The development of dedicated spaces separate from the ED were perceived as being potentially more conducive to providing emotional support and responding to mental health concerns. Alternative spaces with different models of mental health care that facilitate access to diverse professional expertise may help people to seek and receive support more quickly and improve mental health outcomes for people seeking help for distressing experiences, feelings, and emotions.

Dedicated mental health hubs that are accessible 24/7 may enable people to access acute care with specialist mental health staff and peer workers. Providing training in trauma-informed care may help ED staff to support people experiencing a mental health related concern. Expanding the role of peer workers (including peer educators and peer support workers) within mental health services may also contribute to better mental health care. Because they know what it is like given their own lived experience of mental health concerns, peer workers are well placed to provide comfort and support and may lessen the shame and stigma some people might experience when seeking help.

Key points

  • Developing alternative models of mental health care better suited to the needs of people experiencing distress may help those needing urgent support.
  • Peer educators and peer support workers are a great source of information to help ED staff learn more about other local mental health care and support services.
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Redesigning the emergency department