What to Do During a Mental Health Crisis

Every year, one in five adults struggles with mental illness, and one in 25 struggles with a severe episode. In addition, approximately 20 percent of American youth experience some type of mental health issue in their lifetime (click to tweet). The statistics speak for themselves – mental health crises are common. Knowing how to handle them should they happen to you is vital. Keep reading to learn what you can do in the face of a mental health crisis.


Know What a Mental Health Crisis Looks or Feels Like

It’s important that you can recognize the signs of a mental health crisis. To break it down into a short sentence, a crisis involves the loss of the ability to care for yourself or function in a healthy manner in society. If your feelings make you think of hurting yourself or your actions put you at risk, it could be the sign of a crisis.

If you find yourself withdrawing from friends and family or avoiding your daily activities including grooming and eating, it might be time for some help. These are signs that others might notice for you and they might even mention something. Other signs include a preoccupation with dying, thinking of ways to end the pain, or making reckless choices that you know could lead to injury or worse yet, death. Others around you may not notice your ‘dark’ thoughts or think twice about your actions, but it should signal to you that something is wrong.

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Evaluate the Severity of the Crisis

Understanding the severity of the crisis you are experiencing is crucial. Ask yourself, ‘is your life at immediate risk?’ In other words, have you not only thought about dying but also put a plan in place to make it happen? If so, call 911 immediately or take yourself to the emergency room.

If you have thought about suicide, but haven’t put a plan together yet, you may not need to go to the emergency room, but you shouldn’t be alone. Find a trusted friend or loved one that can stay with you so that you don’t make any sudden choices. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline; they have counselors available 24/7 that can talk to you.

If you know you are in crisis but are sure you aren’t an immediate danger to yourself, you should call a mental health professional and make an appointment right away. This way you have a plan in place and can get the help you need moving forward.


Use Self-Care Methods When Appropriate

If you don’t feel as if your crisis is severe enough to see immediate help, consider some self-care methods that may alleviate some of the stress and pain. While self-care methods may not make the problem go away, they can help you feel better until you are able to seek appropriate help.

Try distracting yourself with something positive. Pick up the phone and call a friend, grab your favorite book and read, listen to music or find something you can do with your hands and mind, such as a doing a puzzle or making a craft. The art of distraction can help you put things into perspective, making things seem less extreme, putting you back in control of your own feelings.

Physical activity is also a great way to help yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous. A simple walk around the block taking deep breaths and enjoy the fresh air can help. If you can’t get outside or don’t want to, consider simple stretching techniques. Just moving your body and your muscles can help you think clearer as you consider your next step, and exercise is proven to help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.

Most importantly, give yourself a break. Try to break things down. Rather than trying to solve the crisis in one fell swoop, break it down into manageable pieces. Think about only what you can do in the next five minutes to help with the situation. You aren’t going to solve the entire problem in an hour or even in a day, but breaking it down into smaller pieces can help you feel as if you are in control.


Reach Out for Help

When you feel comfortable, it’s time to reach out to a loved one or close friend that understands your situation. These are often the easiest requests because it’s someone you are familiar with and that is empathetic of your situation. If you don’t have someone close to you that you can reach out to, consider your doctor, the local hospital, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness. They can give you resources in your area to help you get the help you need for your mental health crisis.


Take Steps to Prevent Another Crisis

If you know you suffer from a mental illness, it’s a good idea to have a plan in place to avoid a crisis. Stop and think about your triggers. What puts you in the mindset of a mental health crisis? What would help you in that situation to avoid it? For some, it’s having a trusted friend or loved one ‘on call’ at a moment’s notice. That one person that can talk you down or help you slow down can help prevent a full-blown crisis.

It may also help to have a list of things that help you. For example, does a long walk around the block breathing in the fresh air make you feel rejuvenated? Make it a regular part of your routine. Does taking part in a hobby help keep your mind occupied, giving you less time to fall apart? Does keeping a journal help? Sometimes writing your feelings down can get them out and prevent you from feeling ‘all bottled up.’ Writing in a journal also gives you something to look back on so that you can see your progress or decline and know what to do next.

A mental health crisis doesn’t mean that there is no hope; in fact, getting through it can give you encouragement and convince you of how strong you can be. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you find yourself struggling.