Psychiatric Crisis Terms Briefly Defined


Anosognosia: a neurological condition that impairs awareness of mental illness. Present in 40-60% of persons with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, it often leads to a refusal to accept treatment.

Assertive community treatment (ACT): a team approach to providing rehabilitation and support to individuals who require intensive services in order to live in the community; also known as PACT

Assisted outpatient treatment (AOT) – a process whereby a judge orders a qualifying person with symptoms of mental illness to adhere to a mental health treatment plan while living in the community. Forty-five states have laws authorizing some form of AOT, often called by different names in different states. 

Civil commitment: a legal process through which an individual with severe mental illness is court-ordered into treatment in a hospital (inpatient) or in the community (see AOT above)

Conditional release: discharge from inpatient psychiatric commitment conditioned upon receiving continued treatment as an outpatient living in the community  

Crisis intervention training (CIT): a specialized law enforcement unit comprised of officers who have received training in how to interact with individuals experiencing a psychiatric crisis


Dangerousness (“danger to self/others”): grounds for civil commitment in all states. Many states provide additional, alternative grounds for civil commitment, e.g., “gravely disabled.”

Emergency hospitalization: temporary confinement in a treatment facility during which the person in psychiatric crisis is evaluated by mental health professionals to determine whether civil commitment is appropriate or necessary; may be called an emergency “hold, “pickup”  or “detention”

Guardian/conservator: a person appointed by a court to exercise some or all of the legal rights of an incapacitated person

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act): a federal law that includes standards to protect certain types of personal health care information by restricting access by third parties

Interdisciplinary team (IDT):  a team approach to treatment; typically consists of a psychiatrist, a case manager, a nurse and a peer specialist (an individual whose mental illness is stable)

Medication over objection: the process of involuntarily administering medication to a person whos is undergoing court-ordered hospitalization and does not recognize his or her need for treatment; requires an additional court order in many states

Psychiatric advance directive: a document in which an adult states in advance the wish for psychiatric care in the event that he or she becomes ill and loses capacity for decision-making

Severe mental illness:  an umbrella term without a universal definition; most commonly applied to disabling psychiatric diseases that include psychosis (e.g., schizophrenia, some bipolar disorder)     


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