Behavioral Health

Every day, people with behavioral health conditions seek help, but have nowhere to turn except their local emergency department. These patients not only utilize more resources than other patients, they are also forced to wait, sometimes for days, until a bed in an inpatient facility becomes available.

“Behavioral health” encompasses various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual's normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning. Impairments include those caused by substance use disorders and/or behavioral health conditions resulting from social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors such as infection or head trauma (Source: ENA Topic Brief: Care of Behavioral Health Patients). 

The therapeutic management of behavioral health patients in the emergency department presents some unique and complex issues. There is not a defined set of diagnostic tests that can be ordered to determine the course of their care, and many facilities do not have the on-site services necessary to provide appropriate care. The following resources are provided to assist emergency nurses in improving care for this patient population.



Development of Emergency Care Psychiatric Clinical Framework

Topic Brief: Care of Behavioral Health Patients in the Emergency Department
Summarizes Care of the Psychiatric Patient in the Emergency Department


Managing Adult Behavioral Health in the Emergency Department 2.0
This course provides a basic introduction to evidence-based nursing care of adults with behavioral health emergencies, including mental health crises such as anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and suicidality. Earn 3 CNE contact hours.

Pediatric Behavioral Health Online Course
The pediatric behavioral health course specifically for ED nurses—can enhance your ability to quickly assess and treat young patients at the first point of contact in the ED. This seven-chapter course covers initial interaction, safety concerns, medical screening, rapport, and anxiety management for common school age and adolescent age patients. Earn .87 CNE contact hours.

Behavioral issues are covered in ENPC and GENE Level I and II.


Mental health reform and workplace violence are two of ENA’s key legislative initiatives. We must start to fix our broken mental health system by focusing programs and resources on the psychiatric care for patients and families most in need of services. We must increase the availability of inpatient psychiatric beds, expand the mental health workforce, and integrate between physical and mental health care providers. Strong legislation to protect emergency nurses helps to reinforce that violence is not part of the job.

Emergency Nurses Association Members Descend on Capitol Hill to Fight for Better Emergency Care

ENA Joins Mental Health Liaison Group in Sending Letter to Congressional Leadership in Support of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Care

ENA Communicates Health Care Policy Principles to Congressional Leadership