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How To Handle a Mental Health Crisis

Living with a mental illness is difficult even under the best of circumstances. Without proper treatment or in the face of traumatic or stressful circumstances, it can sometimes become overwhelming, leading to a mental health crisis. If you or a loved one lives with a mental illness, it’s important to know how to respond to a crisis to ensure you get the help and care you need.

What Is a Mental Health Crisis?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) defines a mental health crisis as “any situation in which a behavior puts [someone] at risk of hurting themselves or others and/or prevents them from being able to care for themselves or function effectively in the community.”

A mental health crisis will look different for everyone, depending on their individual situation, the nature of their mental illness, and their personality. Any of the following behaviors may indicate that someone is experiencing a mental health crisis:

What To Do in a Mental Health Crisis

Taking the following steps during a mental health crisis may help prevent injury or even save a life (either yours or someone else’s).

If you are experiencing a mental health crisis:

  1. Be prepared. If possible, make a plan ahead of time for what you’ll do if you start feeling overwhelmed. This might include reaching out to a friend or family member you trust, calling your mental healthcare provider, going to a safe place, or utilizing coping mechanisms to make you feel better.
  2. Call a mental health crisis hotline. Keep crisis support numbers saved in your phone in the event that you need to use them.
    • 988: the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people experiencing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress
    • 1-800-662-HELP (4357): the SAMHSA National Helpline provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations
  3. Go to an emergency room. If you feel you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself or others, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room. Be sure to tell them as much as you can about your mental health condition and what you are experiencing.

If someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis:

  1. Be present. If it is safe to do so, stay with them. Listen to them, express support and concern, and ask how you can help. Try to maintain a calm, slow tone of voice.
  2. Keep them safe. If you are concerned that the person may be having thoughts about suicide or self-harm, try to remove anything they might use to hurt themselves or others (such as guns, drugs, weapons, etc.).
  3. Contact professional help. Ask your friend or loved one if they have contact information for a mental healthcare professional or community resources that may be able to help. If that isn’t an option or you are worried for the person’s immediate safety, contact a crisis hotline, call 911, or take them to the emergency room.

    If you do call 911, be sure to give the operator as much information about their mental health and symptoms as you can. Ask them to send a responder trained in crisis intervention.
  4. Take care of yourself. Caring for someone else in a mental health crisis can be overwhelming. Once they are safe, make sure you get support and take care of your own needs. If at any point you think you are in danger, leave the situation.
  5. Follow up. Once the crisis has passed, check in with the person to see how they’re doing. Ignoring or avoiding someone after a crisis can be extremely damaging. If you want, you can offer additional support, but be sure to communicate your boundaries and prioritize your own well-being.

RADIAS Health provides person-centered integrated healthcare services to people experiencing mental illness, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. Compassionate, skilled health care and support staff deliver our behavioral health services. In addition, our care includes supplementary services such as case management, supportive housing, homeless services, residential services, outpatient DBT treatment, and more. If you or someone you know could benefit from our mission, contact us today or consider donating!

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