Experiencing a mental health crisis can be one of the scariest and most stressful situations to manage. However, there are ways to make them safer, more manageable, and more importantly, to prevent them all together.
What is a crisis?
A crisis is a situation that the person or their parent/caregiver is unable to resolve without the help of trained professionals.
Common crisis emotions include fear, overwhelming negative emotions, and being unable to control what is going on in the surrounding environment.
A mental health crisis does not always mean someone is a danger to self or others, however, they may be.
Reasons a crisis can occur
Both external and internal factors may cause a crisis to occur. Although not an exhaustive list, external factors may include increased stress, loss of someone close or a companion animal, a traumatic event, and/or major life changes.
Internal factors may include intense depression, hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, self-image, or self-worth, feeling unloved, injury or physical health, and fearing for one’s safety.
Regardless of the reason for the crisis, it is important to remember that each individual’s experience with mental health issues is unique.
What are signs that action should be taken?
- Attempts to harm or kill oneself, making plans to do so
- Threats to hurt oneself or others
- Verbal or physical abuse
- Excessive withdrawal
- Not sleeping or eating for several days
- Acute psychotic symptoms causing distress (delusions, hallucinations)
Basic steps to take in a crisis situation
Reduce the intensity of the crisis as much as possible. Speak calmly, softly, and slowly; relax your body and voice; be genuine – do not talk to the individual like they are a child; and be non-judgmental to the person’s experience rather than assessing, judging or pushing solutions. Ask how you can help your loved one feel safe. Try to find out what would help them feel more secure and in control.
If the person is willing to seek care, begin establishing a game plan. Is there a doctor, therapist, or other care provider you could call? Ask the individual what has helped when they have had similar feelings in the past. Does the individual have a written plan for crises or other ideas about what works for them?
Ask the individual what their preferences are for resolving the crisis. Would they prefer a hospital, clinic, or non-medical support? Would they like to take anything along with them? Is there anyone else the individual would like called? When we get there do you want me to stay with you or drop you off?
Involve professionals: Is the person in immediate physical danger and unwilling to seek care? Is the person in immediate danger and unwilling to seek care? If yes, call 911 and explain.
Important reminders about crises:
- Crisis does not happen because someone is weak, “cracked,” or not trying hard enough to get well.
- Crisis is not an inevitable or unavoidable part of living with a mental illness.
- Crisis often signals problems with the services and/or support, not with the person’s ability to get well.
- Crisis looks and feels differently for every person.
- Someone in a self-defined crisis should never be turned away from services.