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What to Do During a Mental Health Crisis

A mental health crisis can be scary because it feels like you are losing control of your mental state.

Navigation: What to do in a Mental Health Crisis, Signs of a Mental Health Crisis, Causes of Mental Health Crises, Preventing a Mental Health Crisis, Treatment Options for a Mental Health Condition, What is Dual Diagnosis?, Rehab is Your Best Chance


Mental health concerns shouldn’t be taken lightly. You don’t want to wait for a full on mental breakdown before you ask for help or seek treatment for a loved one struggling with a mental illness. You don’t need a mental health emergency for that.

A mental health crisis can be scary because it feels like you are losing control of your mental state. The symptoms of a mental health condition can be better or worse at times. But regardless of its current severity, you should know what to do in case it happens.

A mental health crisis refers to a situation in which a person’s mental and emotional well-being is in a state of acute distress or instability. Sometimes people going through this pose a risk to their own safety or the safety of others. In some cases, they may be rushed to an emergency room to stabilize their condition.

It can be particularly dangerous when a person is actively contemplating or attempting suicide. This is considered a severe mental health crisis.

Mental health crises can take many forms and are not limited to specific conditions or disorders. It can manifest in the form of severe anxiety or panic attacks, or it may appear as a psychotic episode. Intense and persistent feelings of hopelessness, despair, or worthlessness can escalate into a crisis, particularly if the person becomes non-responsive or neglects self-care.

A person experiencing withdrawal symptoms, overdose, or engaging in dangerous behaviors due to substance abuse may be in a mental health crisis.

Because of its potential dangers, it is important to know all about this condition and understand its effects so you can develop a mental health crisis plan. Everyone can benefit from a bit of crisis intervention training. Let’s take a closer look at what you should do in the event of a mental health crisis.


What to do in a Mental Health Crisis

There are a few things you need to remember if you or someone you love is going through a mental health crisis. First, you need to stay as calm as possible. Panic will only exacerbate the situation.

If the person is in immediate danger, or they prove to be a danger to themselves or others, call 911 or your local emergency services number. Make sure the environment is safe by removing any potential hazards, like weapons or harmful substances.

Reach out to a mental health professional as soon as possible. You may call a psychiatrist, psychologist, or a therapist for guidance. They can give you further instructions on what to do. They can also provide specific advice tailored to the situation. It helps if you already have a contact person who is familiar with you or your family member.

Consider reaching out to a crisis hotline, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK in the US). These crisis hotlines can provide immediate support and guidance.

Make sure you stay with the person in crisis until it’s safe. While you’re there, try to offer emotional support and reassurance. Listen to them without judgment and let them express their feelings.

Once they have calmed down, encourage the person to seek professional help if they haven’t already. Offer to help them find a therapist or psychiatrist and accompany them to appointments if necessary.

After meeting with a mental health professional, they may be given a safety plan for future mental health crises. This plan may include specific actions to take during a crisis. If it happens again, you should follow this safety plan precisely.

Even after helping them get treatment, keep in touch with the person and check in on them regularly. Loneliness can worsen a mental health crisis, so offer your support. At the same time, you have to find a bit of balance. While it’s important to be there for someone in crisis, also respect their boundaries and decisions, especially when it comes to seeking professional help.

Remember that these are just general guidelines, and it’s crucial to involve mental health professionals when dealing with a mental health crisis. Each situation is unique, and the appropriate course of action may vary depending on the severity and specific circumstances. When in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek immediate professional help.


Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

If you want to prevent a mental health crisis, or at least be prepared for its effects, you need to be able to recognize its signs and symptoms. This can help you seek treatment before things get worse, allowing the person to receive immediate medical attention before they get into a life threatening situation.

It is crucial to remember that mental health crises can vary widely in their severity and nature, but some common signs and symptoms to watch for include extreme mood swings, severe anxiety, social isolation, and changes in sleep patterns.

A person going through an emotional crisis may exhibit rapid and severe changes in mood, such as going from extremely high energy to deep sadness or agitation. They may also exhibit intense and uncontrollable worry, fear, or panic attacks that interfere with daily functioning.

When it comes to their social relationships, they may begin to withdraw from their friends and family members, cutting off contact even with their closest friends. At the same time, they may lose interest in things they used to enjoy. This will occur due to their pervasive sense of despair, worthlessness, and feeling like a burden to others.

A mental health crisis may also cause insomnia, excessive sleeping, extreme agitation, aggression, difficulty concentrating, irrational thoughts, and hallucinations.

The way people react to these symptoms may vary. They may act out in a way that is dangerous to the people around them. Others may neglect personal hygiene and self-care. Some people even try to self-medicate in order to deal with these symptoms, causing substance abuse problems like drug abuse and alcohol abuse.

If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs, it’s important to take them seriously and seek help immediately.

Mental health crises can be life-threatening, and timely intervention is crucial. Reach out to a mental health professional, a crisis helpline, or emergency services if necessary.

Causes of Mental Health Crises

There are many potential causes of a mental health crisis. It can result from a combination of factors, and they vary from person to person. These crises can be acute episodes of emotional distress or a case of existing mental health conditions worsening over time.

Some of the common causes and triggers of mental health crises include:

Genetic and Biological Factors: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to mental health conditions, making them more susceptible to crises when exposed to certain stressors or triggers.

Environmental Factors: Living in a stressful or unsafe environment or experiencing discrimination can contribute to mental health crises, especially among vulnerable populations.

Stress and Trauma: High levels of stress, traumatic experiences, or exposure to chronic stressors can overwhelm a person’s coping mechanisms and lead to a crisis. Trauma can result from various events, such as accidents, abuse, or natural disasters.

Mental Health Disorders: People with pre-existing mental health conditions, such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder, may experience crises when their symptoms worsen or become unmanageable.

Social Isolation: Loneliness, social isolation, or lack of a support system can contribute to mental health crises. A lack of social connections can intensify feelings of hopelessness and despair.

Relationship Issues: Conflicts, breakups, or toxic relationships can have a profound impact on one’s mental well-being and contribute to a crisis.

Loss or Grief: The death of a loved one, a significant loss, or unresolved grief can trigger intense emotional distress and lead to a crisis.

Financial Difficulties: Financial problems, such as job loss, debt, or economic instability, can cause immense stress and anxiety, leading to a mental health crisis.

Major Life Transitions: Significant life changes, such as moving to a new city, starting a new job, getting married, or having a child, can be overwhelming and trigger mental health challenges.

Physical Health Problems: Chronic illness, pain, or disability can have a significant impact on mental health and may lead to a crisis.

Medication Changes: Abruptly starting or stopping psychiatric medications or experiencing side effects from medication adjustments can disrupt an individual’s mental stability.

Substance Abuse: Substance abuse, including alcohol, drugs, and prescription medications, can exacerbate or trigger mental health crises. Substance use can temporarily alleviate symptoms but often leads to more severe mental health issues in the long run.

Mental health crises are complex and multifaceted conditions. Usually, there’s more than one factor that contributes to a person’s mental illness. But early intervention and proper mental health support can help individuals manage and recover from these crises effectively.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, it’s important to reach out to a mental health crisis hotline or seek immediate assistance from a mental health provider or emergency services.

Preventing a Mental Health Crisis

Preventing a mental health crisis involves proactive measures to maintain and improve your mental well-being. It also includes recognizing early signs of distress in yourself or others and taking appropriate actions.

Because of our busy schedules, we often forget about or neglect self-care. Make time for activities that relax and rejuvenate you, such as meditation, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can improve your mental health significantly, so don’t forget to eat balanced meals, get regular exercise, and ensure you’re getting enough sleep.

Next, you wanna focus on regulating your stress levels. Proper stress management can go a long way since stress is a fact of life and cannot be avoided. The best you can do is adjust your reactions accordingly. Identify people, places, and situations that serve as stressors. By recognizing the sources of stress in your life, you can develop strategies to cope with them effectively.

Try to implement techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness because these can help reduce stress.

Remember that you do not have to face your problems alone. Stay connected with friends and family members, even if it’s through virtual means. If you’re experiencing distress, don’t hesitate to reach out to trusted people for emotional support.

If you have a history of mental health issues, schedule regular appointments with a mental health professional to monitor your well-being. They may give you a crisis plan that can outline steps you can take during a crisis. Ensure close friends and family members are aware of this crisis plan and know how to help you when needed.

We’ve talked about some of the warning signs of a mental health crisis. If you haven’t, make sure you learn about common signs of mental health problems, such as persistent sadness, changes in sleep patterns, appetite changes, social withdrawal, or increased irritability. If you recognize some of these in yourself or in a loved one, don’t hesitate to seek proper mental health treatment.

Finally, make sure you limit your alcohol and drug use. Excessive use of substances can worsen mental health issues. In fact, it can develop into bigger problems down the line, especially if you develop addiction or dependence.

Remember that mental health is a dynamic and individualized experience. What works for one person may not work for another. Prevention is important, but timely intervention is crucial in a crisis situation.

Treatment Options for a Mental Health Condition

Mental health treatment options can vary widely depending on the specific mental health condition, its severity, and individual preferences. That said, mental health issues are often addressed through psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a widely used example of psychotherapy. This approach helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to their mental health problems. Various therapies may be involved in the process. Some facilities may use individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy, for example.

In some cases, medications may be administered by mental health professionals to keep symptoms under control. Antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety medications, and even stimulants may be used to help a person in recovery.

Treatment may be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting, depending on the patient’s needs. For severe cases where safety or stability is a concern, individuals may need to be admitted to a psychiatric hospital for intensive care.

Meanwhile, partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs (IOP) offer structured treatment during the day, allowing patients to return home in the evenings.

Support groups also play a significant role in the treatment process. They provide a safe space for recovering individuals with similar mental health challenges to share experiences and coping strategies.

The best treatment programs use an individualized treatment plan that caters to the patient’s specific needs and preferences. Just like with substance use disorder, everyone who experiences these mental health challenges is different.

Consulting with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or therapist, is crucial to determining the most appropriate treatment plan.

What is Dual Diagnosis?

Dual diagnosis refers to a condition in which an individual is diagnosed with both a substance use disorder (SUD) and a mental health disorder.

Addiction and mental health conditions tend to co-occur, and the term dual diagnosis is used when someone has two or more distinct disorders simultaneously. These disorders may interact with and exacerbate each other’s symptoms.

Substance use disorder may co-occur with mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.

Dual diagnosis can be challenging to treat because both the substance use disorder and the mental health disorder need to be addressed simultaneously. Effective treatment typically involves integrated treatment wherein both problems are addressed at once. Treating only one and ignoring the other may not lead to lasting recovery.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other evidence-based therapies are often used during dual diagnosis treatment. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to manage symptoms of the mental health disorder as well as the withdrawal symptoms caused by substance abuse.

It’s crucial for individuals with dual diagnosis to receive comprehensive and specialized care from mental health professionals and addiction specialists. Without proper treatment, the conditions can worsen and have a severe impact on a person’s overall well-being and quality of life. Treatment plans should be tailored to the individual’s specific needs and circumstances.

If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental illness, an addiction, or both, look for a rehab near you today.

Rehab is Your Best Chance

Treatment is an addicted individualʼs best option if they want to recover. Beating an addiction not only requires eliminating the physical dependence, but also addressing the behavioral factors that prevent them from wanting to get better. Simply quitting may not change the psychological aspect of addiction. Some people quit for a while, and then take drugs or alcohol again, only to overdose because they did not detox properly. Recovery involves changing the way the patient feels, thinks, and behaves.


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Fel Clinical Director of Content
Felisa Laboro has been working with addiction and substance abuse businesses since early 2014. She has authored and published over 1,000 articles in the space. As a result of her work, over 1,500 people have been able to find treatment. She is passionate about helping people break free from alcohol or drug addiction and living a healthy life.

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