The role of violence in decisions about hospitalization from the psychiatric emergency room

Am J Psychiatry. 1992 Feb;149(2):207-12. doi: 10.1176/ajp.149.2.207.


Objective: The authors evaluated the relationship between violent behavior and decision making about hospitalization from the psychiatric emergency room.

Method: The medical charts of 321 patients evaluated in an urban psychiatric emergency room during a 4-week period were reviewed retrospectively. Violent behavior was defined as physical attacks on persons or fear-inducing behavior before or during the evaluation in the emergency room; and its value in predicting hospitalization decisions was assessed with logistic regression analyses that also included 12 demographic, clinical, and contextual variables.

Results: A model predicting hospitalization decisions was developed and cross-validated. Although violent patients were more likely to be hospitalized than nonviolent patients, clinical variables such as diagnosis and overall severity of psychiatric impairment were more important than violent behavior in predicting hospitalization decisions.

Conclusions: Despite legal pressures to focus on overt behaviors such as violence as a basis for liability prevention and civil commitment, clinicians in this study did not allocate inpatient resources to preventively detain persons unlikely to benefit from treatment. Rather, they hospitalized the most severely disturbed patients, with diagnoses such as schizophrenic and manic disorders for which a widely accepted therapeutic armamentarium exists. The results are consistent with clinical recommendations that in the evaluation of the violent patient, attention needs to be given to the underlying disorder, since violent behavior itself can result from diverse causes only some of which require inpatient psychiatric treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Emergency Services, Psychiatric*
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • Patient Selection*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Violence*