Meet Clare. She's been caring for her schizophrenic brother for the past four years. He is on medication and is an outpatient, but things have got seriously out of hand in the last three days. Would you know what to do in a psychiatric emergency?

Most psychiatric conditions can be managed effectively on an outpatient basis. But in some cases, more intensive care in a mental health facility may be necessary. But how would you know the difference and which procedures should you follow?

The Mental Health Care Act (MHCA), which was promulgated on 15 December 2004, clearly stipulates the steps family members and other carers can take to ensure that someone gets the help they need.

Voluntary admissions the easiest

The most advantageous step for all involved, including the person in need of psychiatric help, is if the person willingly agrees to be admitted to a mental health facility for in-patient treatment.

But this is unfortunately not always possible. What can be done if someone clearly needs help, but refuses to be treated or is unable to make a decision?

Other types of admission

These types of admissions are classified as follows:

Steps to follow for assisted care:

If the person regains his/her ability to make informed decisions and recovers, the patient will be discharged.

Steps to follow for involuntary care

Involuntary care should be considered if there is reasonable belief that a person has a mental illness and is likely to inflict serious harm to him/herself or others, or if treatment is necessary for the protection of the financial interests or reputation of the user.

In such cases:

- Ilse Pauw, Health24, updated July 2011