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What Is A Mental Health Crisis (And How To Get The Help You Need)?

In the information you will find a discussion of what a mental health crisis is. You will also find advice on how to seek treatment for yourself or a loved one experiencing a mental health crisis.

What is a mental health crisis? 

Defining what a mental health crisis is can be tricky. This is because mental health is subjective which means it looks different in every individual. However, there are some common features that suggest someone may be in crisis mentally, which will be discussed in more detail below. 

Overall, a mental health crisis differs from a mental health issue in terms of its severity. A crisis will be more severe and cause significant distress to the person that is experiencing it and prevent them from functioning normally in their lives. 

What to do if you are currently in crisis? 

If you are currently in crisis it is vital to reach out and get the support you need. 

To access support you can:

  • Go to the emergency room
  • Visit a walk-in psychiatric urgent care center
  • Contact your therapist's emergency line

There are also a number of organizations you can contact including 



What are the symptoms of a mental health crisis?

Symptoms of a mental health crisis will be different across individuals. However, some of the most frequent signs include the following: 

  • Feeling paranoid - Feeling paranoid is one of the most common symptoms of a mental health crisis. This may involve feeling like others are out to get you or having an increased sense of anxiety and suspicion.
  • Sudden or pronounced changes in mood - Changes in mood, whether up or down, are common signs of a mental health crisis. These changes may occur suddenly and without warning, and can be accompanied by feelings of anxiety, depression, sadness, anger, or other intense emotions. Other possible symptoms include feeling disconnected from reality or preoccupied with negative thoughts and worries.
  • Self-harm - Self-harm, also known as self-injury or self-mutilation, is the intentional act of inflicting physical harm on one's own body. This can be done in a variety of ways, including cutting, burning, scratching and other forms of injury. Self-harm is often used as a coping mechanism to deal with intense feelings of frustration, anger, sadness, or other intense emotions.
  • Self-medication - Self-medication, also known as self-prescribing or self-treatment, is the act of intentionally taking medication in order to manage a mental or physical health condition without the guidance and supervision of a medical professional. This can include taking prescription medications in higher doses than recommended, using over-the-counter drugs for non-medical purposes, or combining different medications in order to achieve the desired effect.

Other signs of a mental health crisis can include:

  • Feeling suicidal, experiencing suicidal thoughts, and making plans to end your life. 
  • Psychosis, including delusions (believing things that are not true) and hallucinations (hearing or seeing things that are not there). 
  • Isolating yourself from your friends, family, and colleagues. 
  • Inability to function normally, e.g. not being able to wash, brush your teeth or change your clothing. 
  • Repetitive intrusive thoughts that are upsetting 

What causes a mental health crisis?

There are many things that can cause a mental health crisis. Yet, not every cause will impact an individual in the same way. Indeed, something that triggers a crisis in one person may not cause the same reaction in another. 

Some of the most common reasons that a person may find themselves in a mental crisis include things like: 

  • The loss of a loved one, pet, job, or other valued things in life. 
  • Divorce or relationship breakdown 
  • Situations of extreme stress such as violence, or natural disasters 
  • Stopping or changing mental health treatments 
  • Trauma, especially a significant traumatic event such as abuse, rape, or violence. 
  • Substance abuse 
  • Being discriminated against 
  • Losing a job
  • Moving away from home or your support system 

There are also particular groups that are more at risk of a mental crisis than others. One such group is people that live in crowded conditions such as those in prison. People that have experienced a significant economic loss that impacts their standard of living are also more vulnerable to mental health crises. Lastly, those with pre-existing mental health conditions, whether diagnosed or not, can also be more susceptible to these kinds of crises.  

What does treatment look like?

There is a range of different treatments for a mental health crisis, and the one you receive will depend on several factors. However, as a rule for a mental health crisis, you can expect to either be treated in the emergency room and sent home with a treatment plan, or be assigned to outpatient, or inpatient treatment.

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient treatment is a form of therapy that allows you to access services and support while continuing to live at home or in your community. This type of treatment typically involves regularly scheduled sessions with a therapist, as well as other supportive services such as medication management and group therapy.

Outpatient treatment can be an effective way to manage mental health crises, especially if you are not in immediate danger or need to maintain your regular responsibilities. However, it is important to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine if this option is right for you.

Inpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment refers to a type of therapy that involves staying at a hospital or other residential facility during the duration of your treatment. This may be used when you are experiencing a severe mental health crisis, or if your symptoms are so debilitating that you need immediate care and support. 

Organizations providing Inpatient mental health services may offer things like individual therapy sessions, group therapy, and psychiatric care to help manage symptoms and address the underlying causes of your mental health crisis. While this type of treatment can be beneficial for many people, it is important to remember that you will have less control over your daily life and may need to rely on others for support. It is also important to work closely with your healthcare provider to determine if this option is right for you.

What to do if someone you care about is in crisis?

  1. Get them to a safe place, away from any potential triggers or danger. This could mean going to the hospital for medical treatment, staying with a trusted friend or family member, or finding another location where they can get the help that they need.
  1. Encourage them to communicate how they are feeling and listen to what they have to say. Let them know that you care about them, and reassure them that they are not alone in this difficult time.
  1. Help them explore different treatment options, such as therapy or medication, so that they can begin the process of healing and recovery.
  1. Be patient with them and offer ongoing support, even if their condition seems to be improving or getting worse. It can take time to work through a mental health crisis and they will need your help along the way.
  1. Educate yourself about mental health conditions and how they may affect your loved one so that you can better understand their situation and provide the most effective support.
  1. Avoid judgment and criticism, even if you disagree with the choices that your loved one is making. Remember that this is a difficult time for them and they are in no position to make rational decisions about their care or well-being.
  1. Be proactive in setting up a treatment plan, including things like therapy appointments and regular check-ins with a healthcare provider.
  1. Help them find appropriate support services in their community, such as crisis hotlines or mental health centers. This can help them get the treatment that they need in a timely manner and prevent their condition from getting worse.
  1. Seek out additional resources if you need support yourself, whether that means talking to a therapist or joining a support group for caregivers. Remember that your loved one's mental health crisis will take a toll on you as well, and it is important to take care of your own well-being.

If someone you care about is going through a mental health crisis, it can be difficult and scary to know what to do or how to help them. But by being proactive, supportive, and patient, you can play an important role in their recovery and help them get the treatment they need.

In addition, it is also important for you to remember to take care of yourself by seeking out additional resources and support if you need it. Together, you can get through this challenging time and help your loved one regain their health and happiness.


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