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How to Navigate a Mental Health Crisis

When handling a mental health crisis, the initial shock is usually followed by an influx of questions, which makes these episodes feel very overwhelming. Mental illness is often unpredictable, yet both the people in crisis and the people around them need resources available in their time of need. Given that September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, I wanted to use today’s blog post to discuss warning signs of a mental health crisis and also what to do in the midst of one. Know that your intervention efforts could be lifesaving for your loved one.

Warning Signs of a Mental Health Crisis

Like any health crisis, it’s necessary to address a mental health emergency immediately and effectively. Although warning signs aren’t always present, it’s important to be aware of any potential indication that one is brewing, including:

  • Trouble with daily tasks, even those as seemingly simple as brushing teeth or changing clothes

  • Unexpected and extreme changes in mood

  • Noticeable agitation or aggression

  • Abusive behavior, both to self and others, including substance use and/or self-harm

  • Increased paranoia, especially if related to safety of self or others

  • Social isolation

  • Symptoms of psychosis, such as hearing voices, seeing things that aren’t there, or difficulty recognizing loved one

  • Expressing desires to hurt self or others

  • Loss of interest in things that are normally important or desirable to them

  • Bizarre behavior

  • Significant sense of hopelessness

What to Do in a Mental Health Crisis

If you are concerned that a loved one is in or nearing a crisis, it’s imperative that you seek professional help. To figure out the best starting point, assess the immediacy of the situation with the questions below:

  • Is it possible that the person may hurt themselves, others, or property?

  • Do you have time to call a mental health professional and seek guidance?

  • Or do you need emergency assistance now?

No matter what you decide, do your best to keep your voice calm; any loud noises or overreaction may escalate the situation. Express your love and concern, and ask how you can help. Instead of trying to take control, offer them options and help them maintain their power of choice. Give them space; avoid touching them unless you ask for permission. Most importantly, be patient. It will take time to truly help them as they move through a mental health crisis, but your support is invaluable to your loved one.

If you believe you need immediate assistance, please call 911 or take them to your nearest emergency room . If urgent intervention is not needed and your loved one and others are safe then please reach out to your local outpatient mental health center or your loved one's therapist or psychiatrist (if they have one).

Develop a Wellness Recovery Action Plan

Want to take your efforts one step further? Create a Wellness Recovery Action Plan with your loved one and ensure their closest family and friends as well as their healthcare providers have access to it. Keep a copy on your phone as well as in a kitchen drawer, glove compartments, and/or a bedside table. It should include the following details:

  • Their address and phone number

  • Their diagnosis and list of medications

  • Previous mental health crisis and/or suicide attempts

  • Their history of drug use

  • Triggers

  • Things that have helped in the past

  • Phone numbers for all healthcare providers, including their therapist and psychiatrist as well as a local crisis hotline

  • Phone numbers for family and friends who may be helpful

  • Addresses of nearby walk-in crisis centers or emergency rooms

  • Phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to Dr. Kelli Malkasian, PsyD, CEDS at Coral Reef Counseling, and schedule a free consultation or telehealth appointment today.


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