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Risk management--in case of emergency call 911?

Posted by Margaret Donohue on September 16, 2015 at 9:00 AM

We're setting up a new phone system.  Someone suggested the voice mail include the phrase "In case of emergency call 911."  When I asked why they would want that, they mentioned that everywhere else where they worked had that.  It's a convention.  But none of the staff in my office would actually call 911 unless they had a medical emergency.  What we all had was a list of people, therapists, colleagues, agencies, or groups we would call in case of psychological emergency. 


I remember the story I heard about someone cutting their holiday ham in half because "that's how it was always done."  They came to find out, it was done that way because there wasn't a big enough pan to fit a large ham.  The call 911 message is done for risk management at large agencies, not because it's helpful, but because it mitigates risk.  


911 gets you the police, maybe an ambulance, maybe the fire department.  If you're sad or suicidal it may get you a trip to the hospital.  If you are angry or homicidal it may get you arrested or killed.  So a friend of mine has his voice mail message that says:  "In case of emergency call 911, and good luck."  Mine just says I'll call you back as soon as I can.  It's my cell phone.  I answer it most of the time.  Sometimes it goes to voice mail.  I get back to them when I can.  If it's urgent people call me then text me.  Psychological emergency calls about other people the kind where we've been fighting and now I'm afraid for them, or my child is out of control and I don't know what to do, just mean the person is out of resources.


I don't have "In case of emergency call 911" in my voice mail message.  If I had to have a voice mail system that tells someone who to call in case of an emergency it wouldn't likely be 911 unless there was a dangerous situation.  It would likely be "if this is a psychological emergency call everyone you know and call a crisis line. I'll call you back as soon as I can, but in the meantime go do something that makes you feel worthwhile, or helpful to someone, or go out in nature and find something beautiful.  If you are feeling really angry or hurt, go watch a cartoon, find something to laugh at, go for a walk, be in the moment with your surroundings, go play with an animal.  Write down everything you are angry about.  Write down all the different ways you can choose to feel instead of being angry.  Write down all the things you want to live another day to experience.  If you have a blank page, you don't have enough things to do.  


And maybe "If your psychological emergency is about someone else, please do the following assessment:  First make sure you and the other person are physically safe.  If there is a weapon, leave and call 911 if you can't get them to put the weapon down.  If you are safe and there is no weapon, then just say "Let's take a break and calm down. I don't want to fight."  Or "This is scaring me."  Or "I know you're upset, but I'm overwhelmed."  Second, call a crisis line if someone is suicidal.  If someone is psychotic or under the influence, get them to a hospital if you can do that safely.  If they are psychotic or under the influence and dangerous, call 911.  

Categories: General Psychology, Ethics

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