What To Do When A Mental Health Crisis Begins

Would you know what to do if a friend or family member was having a mental health crisis? How could you help them get through it? Can you recognize the signs of an emotional breakdown in yourself and others? At Sokya, we know that better understanding mental illness and learning what a crisis looks like can be life-saving, so we’re here to help you support those you care about when it matters most.

What is a Mental Health Crisis?

A mental health crisis is a situation that occurs when someone experiences a drastic and potentially dangerous increase in the symptoms of a mental illness. As a result, they may find it hard to function, lose touch with reality or engage in self-destructive behaviors. In the most serious cases, there’s also an increased risk of self-harm or suicide.

A mental health crisis can be triggered by stress at home, upsetting news or conflicts with loved ones, but regardless of the cause, it’s a situation that requires prompt treatment for the best outcome. If someone you know is in an acute crisis, you may have to seek immediate medical help. If you’re worried about their safety, you might need to call emergency services, such as your local mental health crisis response team (if available) or 911.

If you or someone you love is experiencing thoughts of suicide, help is available. Call 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. In a medical emergency, call 911. 

The Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

No two mental health crises look exactly alike, but you might see some warning signs that indicate someone you know is struggling. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the following are things to watch for in yourself and others:

  • Worsening feelings of depression
  • Trouble functioning and completing daily tasks
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Sudden feelings of happiness or calmness after a period of depression
  • Being more agitated than normal (making threats, becoming violent, etc.)
  • Self-destructive or impulsive behavior (drug use, self-harm, etc.)
  • Increased isolation from friends, family and peers
  • Losing touch with reality (delusions, confusion, hearing voices, etc.)
  • Dramatic shifts in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Giving away valued personal possessions
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide

How to Help Someone You Know

If someone you know is having a mental health crisis, simply being present and offering non-judgmental support can be beneficial. Don’t criticize them or place blame, but make it clear that you’re there to listen. Let them tell you how you can help them best.

You don’t have to sacrifice your own needs or boundaries to support someone experiencing a mental health crisis. If you’re comfortable with it, you can say something like, “It seems like things have been tough lately, is there anything I can do?” or “When life seems like it’s too much, I’m here for you.” You can also offer to help them find additional resources.

Here are some other dos (and don’ts) that can provide a blueprint for showing up with compassion toward yourself and your loved one.

DO — Have a plan

If the person needing help is a close friend or family member, try to have a plan in place. During a mental health crisis, they’re going to need more than just your support. They’ll likely need the guidance of professionals and a strong network of care.

Many mental health providers recommend that individuals share the following with their loved ones for use during an emergency: the phone number of their therapist or psychiatrist, contact info for local crisis centers and mental health organizations, a list of known triggers, and a schedule of community resources (such as online groups).

DON’T — Try to take control

Even well-meaning people can make a bad situation worse. During a mental health crisis, it’s recommended that you offer the individual options instead of making decisions for them or trying to control what happens next. This is especially true when considering actions that could further traumatize them, such as involving the police.

Whenever possible, we should try to include our loved ones in the decisions that impact them if there isn’t an immediate risk of harm. It’s best to reach out to others in their support system and familiarize yourself with your local mental health crisis teams ahead of time to determine the safest course of action during an emergency.

DO — Stay calm

Someone experiencing a mental health crisis may have trouble communicating their thoughts or emotions. This can be frustrating and leave them feeling overwhelmed. If you get frustrated too and lose your cool, it can escalate the situation.

Instead, stay calm, keep your voice level, and avoid overreacting. If they’re not in immediate danger, express support and concern while continuing to seek additional help or guidance. If the situation worsens, contact a professional or your local crisis response team.

DON’T — Dismiss their thoughts or feelings

We may think we’re being helpful by telling a loved one that everyone faces their own unique mental health challenges and that “this too shall pass,” but doing so can invalidate their feelings. It can also minimize their pain and lead to other negative emotions.

Instead of saying something like, “It could be worse” or “Everything happens for a reason,” acknowledge their experience and give them your full attention. You can also practice more positive phrasing that expresses support and lets them know you hear them.

How to Help Yourself

If you have your own mental health concerns, it’s also important to recognize the above signs in yourself and make a plan with your psychiatrist, therapist or clinician in the event of a crisis. You should also talk with your providers about where you can go for intensive care and whether your current treatment plan is working. If your condition is getting worse, it may indicate the need for a change.

Taking steps to improve your self-care can help you better cope with stress and keep your symptoms in check on a daily basis. During difficult times, don’t be afraid to reach out to others for support and utilize your toolbox of coping skills, thinking about what has helped you stay calm in the past. Online therapy groups can provide additional support by connecting you with others who understand what you’re going through.

Finally, try to remember that a mental health crisis doesn’t define you or your loved ones — it’s a temporary moment in time that can be endured with support and compassion.

During a mental breakdown, the support of our friends and family can make all the difference. Better understanding mental illness and learning to recognize the signs of a crisis are also essential to keeping those we care about safe. If you or a loved one is struggling with a mental health concern, our team of experienced psychiatrists, therapists, clinicians and more can help you develop a plan of action for dealing with periods of worsening symptoms. To learn more, call Sokya at 800-930-0803.

More than 50% of Americans struggle with mental health.

Headlight is now collaborating with health plans and companies to make therapy more accessible and affordable. Speak to a Care Coordinator today.