Acute mental health (a brief review)


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Page last updated: 15/10/2022

Acute mental health

In the following brief review, we will address the issue of acute mental health, its characteristics to identify it and requirements at the time of treatment 

Acute mental health

Also defined as acute mental illness, it refers to those manifestations of mental illness in which the symptoms are highly displeasing and significant. Onset is usually abrupt or fleeting and symptoms tend to respond well to treatment. Different disorders are included in this category, the common characteristic being the high intensity of the symptoms. 

When a person suffers from acute mental health, this usually means that he or she will need high-level care, in a hospital or nursing home, with constant care from health and mental health personnel. The person may need to be hospitalized for a certain period of time or, if not, intensive treatment provided at home by a specialized team. 

Acute mental health: main features

Among the main characteristics that help define acute mental health are the following: 

  • It is common that when it occurs, it is the first time that the person manifests some signs of mental illness. 
  • The onset of symptoms is usually sudden (from one moment to the next and sometimes with difficulty in finding a trigger).
  • The symptoms tend to decrease gradually in the first few days and respond appropriately to treatment. 
  • The symptoms, regardless of the specific disorder, are usually very intense and frequent, occur in such a way as to create excessive stress, and have the characteristic of being very disabling, so that the person cannot continue to carry out normal activities. 
  • The person feels that he or she cannot control the situation.
  • The level of lack of control is so high that people may attempt to harm themselves and, to a lesser extent, others around them. 
  • Experience extreme anxiety, which is evident in physiological signs (sweating, increased heart rate, rapid breathing, among others) and also cognitive signs (ideas of death, catastrophic beliefs, intense fear, among others). 
  • Permanent and repetitive thoughts of suicide or self-harm 
  • Experiencing hallucinations, these can be of different sensory types. It may be hearing voices or seeing things that don’t really exist. 
Acute mental health (a brief review)

What do you do when a person manifests acute mental health?

According to the National Health Service (NHS) the route to take is as follows: 

  • If you have ever been given or know of a Crisis Line, it is best to call immediately and ask for help. 
  • If you have a mental health team or have a specific type of membership and care, it is best to go to the route of care they have set up for you. 
  • Samaritans offer free and constant help, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and you only have to call 116 123.
  • If you have not used any of the above, it is best to go to a local crisis and/or emergency service. They will be able to receive the person or, failing that, help you with a referral to another place that is suitable for the purpose. 
  • Contact NHS 11. These services can be used when you or someone you know or have close to you needs urgent help, but is not life-threatening (if they are life-threatening, they should go to an emergency or crisis service). You should ask for help from the NHS 11 if:
    • You are a person with an existing mental illness and your symptoms are getting worse over time, and you are not getting any better. 
    • If: You are a person who is experiencing symptoms of mental illness for the first time in their life 
    • If the person has been hurting himself (but doesn’t seem to be life-threatening), or if the person has been mentioning that he wants to hurt himself.
    • If the person in question is showing signs of some kind of dementia. 
    • If the person concerned is being subjected to violence in the home, whether physical, sexual or emotional abuse. 

As can be seen, the conditions under which a person must go to an urgent care or crisis service are special situations of high complexity and intensity. That’s one of the reasons they really need professional help; they have lost control over simple things of their lives, and some primary treatment is crucial for the future of their mental health. 

Does everyone with a mental illness have acute mental health?

Not all people who have or have had a mental illness will develop symptoms in such a way that they will be categorized as having acute mental health. It is common for mental disorders to be kept under control and symptoms to be manageable through the different types of treatments that exist. 

It is very common for many people to suffer from mental illness and to lead relatively normal lives. As long as they follow the instructions given by mental health professionals, and go early to seek specialized help, people with mental illness can have a very good quality of life. 

How should I communicate with a person with acute mental health?

As mentioned in the previous sections, when a person suffers from acute mental health at some point in their life, they may experience severe anxiety, feel like taking their own life, be reacting to a serious problem in their life, have a psychotic episode, and even have a combination of all of the above. Therefore, the following are some recommendations for talking to and trying to approach a person in this state:

  • Make an introduction of yourself so that the other person feels safe. Speak clearly and calmly. 
  • Try to explain why you are there and that you are trying to help. 
  • Be nice to the person and avoid being threatening, but try to be honest with the situation.
  • Avoid at all costs any exchange that reads like confrontation. 
  • Encourage the other person to seek professional help from a mental health service. 

Acute mental health: forgotten?

According to a recent article in The Guardian, people suffering from acute mental health have been systematically forgotten by the health and welfare systems. Among the most common disorders of this type are schizophrenia, psychotic disorders and any other mental disorder whose symptoms can increase in intensity in a disabling way and generate high levels of distress. 

According to the article, schizophrenia, for example, has remained a neglected mental illness for many years, so patients have not received the best treatments they could receive. It’s common, in fact, for people with this disorder to get attention for the wrong reasons. 

For example, it is common for the media to report criminal or violent events characterized by people who are suffering from some psychotic symptoms and have committed some criminal action as a result. What is dangerous about these images is that they shape public opinion and create a sense of insecurity and stigma towards people with mental illness. 

This goes against the information that has been found, according to which one-third of people with schizophrenia end up experiencing only one psychotic episode in their lives, after which they recover. On the other hand, another third may experience repeated episodes, but these can be managed with the right strategies and get on with their lives. 

Finally, the remaining third is known to be resistant to treatment. Given the above, we realize that most people with schizophrenia don’t pose a danger, as the media sometimes portrays them. The problems here are accentuated when, as a result of the high level of discrimination and social stigma, people do not even get a proper diagnosis, after which there should be treatment relevant to their needs. 

On the other hand, the article also mentions that the more acute the acute mental health, the less likely people are to receive help since their symptoms and particular characteristics mean that they require more assistance, resources, and adequate space in order to receive effective treatment. 

The consequences of forgetting acute mental health

Below are some of the possible consequences that can result from people not receiving adequate treatment. 

Public health problems

To the extent that people with acute mental health do not receive adequate treatment for their needs, their symptoms can continue to worsen and greatly destroy the quality of life of both the sufferer and those around them. 

If we think about this on a large scale, i.e. a large number of people nationwide suffering from these symptoms of acute mental health, with great intensity and severity, what we have is a serious public health problem. 

Deterioration in the quality of life 

Suffering an episode of acute mental health is disabling enough. The person’s experience is highly aversive, very unpleasant, and from there begins a path of deterioration of their overall quality of life. If we add to this the difficulty in obtaining a proper diagnosis, the social stigma and the difficulty in accessing relevant treatment, the situation is even more serious. 

From there, the person’s deterioration can be constant. They may begin to have problems in maintaining their interpersonal relationships in a harmonious and stable manner, they may have difficulties in accessing decent employment and, from there on, financial problems may begin to develop. 

As mentioned earlier, acute mental health can enter a cycle from which it becomes very difficult to get out, as different areas of life are affected and gradually become more difficult to recover. 

Given the above scenario, most people with acute mental health are forgotten, hidden away somewhere or at least isolated from social circles, since their acute symptoms do not allow them to function normally. Without proper professional care, their problems become even more severe over time and much more difficult to treat. 


People with acute mental health face great challenges, as they experience very intense and distracting symptoms. They lose control of themselves and may even hurt themselves. The most important thing in these situations is to seek professional help and go to an emergency or crisis service. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about acute mental health 

What are the 4 types of mental illness?

Some of the major groups of mental disorders are personality disorders, mood or attitude disorders, psychotic disorders, and anxiety disorders. 

What is considered a mental illness?

Mental illness, also called mental disorder, includes a number of disorders of normal mental functions that affect mood, thinking, or behaviour. 

What is the most painful mental illness?

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) has been widely accepted as the most painful, difficult, and distracting mental disorder. 

How can you tell if someone is mentally ill?

An adult, young adult, or teenager may exhibit the following signs: confused thinking, excessive fears or worries (far beyond normal), abnormally prolonged depression, among others. 

What age does mental illness start?

About half of all mental disorders begin by age 14, and three-quarters of mental illness begin by age 24

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