Characteristics of Individuals With Severe Mental Illness Who Use Emergency Services

Alexander S. Young, Matthew J. Chinman, Julie A. Cradock-O’Leary, Green Sullivan, Dennis Murata, Jim Mintz and Paul Koegel

April 2005

Emergency services are both a safety net and a locus for acute treatment. While the population with severe, persistent mental illness uses emergency services at a high rate, few studies have systematically examined the causes of this service use. This study examines a random sample of 179 people who were high utilizers of services from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Interviews were conducted and 5 years of service use data were studied. Greater use of emergency services was associated with male gender, minority race, severe illness, homelessness, and less family support. Efforts to reduce emergency services need to improve access to appropriate community services, particularly for people who are homeless or lack family support.

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