Overview, key principles and definition of psychiatric emergency


  • The Psychiatric Emergency Plan (PEP) clearly sets out the roles and responsibilities of partner agencies and professionals in dealing with a psychiatric emergency.
  • PEP is designed to is to "distress and disturbance for the patient and which ensures as smooth and safe a transition as possible from the site of the emergency to the appropriate treatment setting."1
  • For the purposes of this document any reference to mental health and learning disability services covers the following services:

    • All adult mental health services.
    • All learning disability services.
    • All inpatient mental health services
    • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS).
    • Older adult mental health services.
  • This document does not contain a list of self help materials or services. NHS Forth Valley public web page has a link to immediate help resources.

1. Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003: Code of Practice, Volume 2, Chapter7, Paragraph 58).

Key principles

  • All statutory services will act in the best interests of patients, to deliver high quality care.
  • Patients will be treated with compassion, respect and dignity at all times.
  • All procedures should be in the best interests of the patient, based on the principle of minimum necessary force or action to achieve the desired outcome.
  • Treatment to be delivered in a safe, professional and competent manner;
  • Take a person centred approach to ensure the smooth running of any function discharged under the Act, with good communication being essential.
  • In all Psychiatric emergencies clinicians should be mindful of the application of Adult Support and Protection legislation and Child Protection procedures.
  • Managing a Psychiatric Emergency will require a team approach. Team working should ensure that staff are not put in a vulnerable position where their safety is compromised.

A psychiatric emergency

  • The ‘Emergency’ element of the situation will be defined by the immediate nature of the distress or disruption caused and the need to get care and/or treatment for the service user.
  • Any service user, their carer, a member of staff from any agency or a member of the public may identify a "psychiatric emergency" and refer to this plan for guidance.
  • Members of the public identifying an emergency should seek help frm emergency or primary care services, who will enact this plan.

Editorial Information

Last reviewed: 28/05/2021

Author(s): Julia Ferrari, Joe McGhee, Duncan Westall, William McFadden, Heather Tainsh , Susan Sutherland, Marie White , Anne Cook, Justin McNicholl, Douglas Armstrong, Dr Nabila Muzaffar, Dr Stuart Affleck, Dr David Cumming, Andrew Angus, Jackie Maher, Rose Mills, Vincent Hughes..