In the assessment of patients presenting with psychiatric symptoms, as with other medical conditions encountered in the emergency department, it is crucial to promptly stabilize the patient's acute condition and evaluate the major complaint immediately. Formulating a specific diagnosis must necessarily follow initial stabilization procedures in this clinical process. The determination that an individual is suicidal and in need of hospitalization, for instance, is more important than deciding whether that person suffers from schizophrenia or psychotic depression.

Nevertheless, provisional psychiatric diagnoses can be made in the emergency department. Recognition of specific behavioral syndromes can assist in evaluating the presenting complaint, pursuing associated symptoms, and determining treatment and disposition. Emergency physicians should be sufficiently familiar with commonly seen psychiatric illnesses to describe their predominant clinical features.

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