If someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, being present and non-judgmental can be helpful.
Would you know what to do if someone you knew was in a mental health crisis? Do you have an action plan of important steps to take? If you said no, you’re not alone. We’re here to help share the necessary steps to take to best support someone during a mental health crisis.
First, what is a mental health crisis?
A mental health crisis is when someone has a significant and potentially dangerous increase in the symptoms of their mental illness. The symptoms may become so severe that the person will have trouble functioning in their daily life, and they may begin self-destructive behaviors. If the person has suicidal thoughts or actions or if the person shows signs of being a possible threat to others this is an immediate mental health crisis.
What are the signs to look for during a mental health crisis?
There are a variety of signs that indicate someone is having a mental health crisis. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, here is a list of the most common signs to be aware of.
- Being unable to do their typical daily tasks such as bathing, brushing their teeth, or changing their clothes.
- Suddenly becoming depressed or withdrawn.
- Showing rapid mood swings.
- Suddenly becoming happy or calm after a period of depression.
- Being unable to stay still or frequently pacing.
- Becoming more agitated by making verbal threats, destroying property, or showing violent, out-of-control behavior.
- Showing abusive behavior toward themselves or others.
- Becoming isolated from school, work, friends and family.
- Experiencing psychosis, which means they lose touch with reality. A person experiencing psychosis might be unable to recognize family or friends, become confused, have strange ideas, think they’re someone else, not understand what people are saying, hear voices, or see things that aren’t there.
- Showing paranoia, such as suspicion that someone is watching them or trying to harm them.
What causes a mental health crisis?
A mental health crisis can be the result of a significant event such as losing a job, a breakup, a death of a loved one, a traumatic event, work stress, parenting stress, financial burdens, etc. Having a sense of being too overwhelmed along with many other factors can contribute to someone having a mental health crisis.
How do you help someone in crisis?
If someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, being present and non-judgmental can be helpful. Make it clear that you are there to listen and ask them what they need in that moment. Remember, sometimes, the best thing you can do is not solve the problem, but letting that person vent their struggles.
You can start a conversation with, “It seems like things have been pretty stressful. How can I help?” or “If you ever want to talk about anything, I’m here for you.”
Here are some more ways that you can support that person:
- Encourage them to reach out to supportive family and friends.
- Encourage them to stay on a regular daily routine.
- Support them in continuing any treatment that they are already on until they can see their doctor or therapist.
- Offer to take them to appointments or pick up medications if needed.
- Help with household chores.
- Offer to cook them a meal or have a day out together.
- Check in on them throughout the week, tell them that you’re thinking of them.
When supporting someone, there are things that you should also avoid saying or doing, such as:
- Assuming that you know what they are thinking or feeling.
- Avoid telling them that they are exaggerating.
- Don’t dismiss their thoughts or feelings.
- Avoid making them do what you think is best.
- Don’t force them into doing something they aren’t ready for.
IMPORTANT: If someone is in immediate crisis or in danger of harming themselves or others you should reach out to your local Crisis Hotline for support or Emergency Services.
People who are experiencing thoughts of suicide can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
If possible, you should also remove anything that the person might use to harm themselves. Such items include:
- Medications or drugs
- Sharp objects such as knives, razor blades, or glass
- Belts or ropes
Most importantly, you and other supportive people should stay with the person in crisis until help is available. The presence of supportive friends and family can save someone’s life.
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