Mental Health Crisis

What to Do in a Mental Health Crisis

Everyone hopes they’ll never experience or witness a mental health crisis. But everyone should know what to do if they ever find themselves in a situation that requires immediate action.

How to Know if You're Having a Mental Health Crisis

Start by evaluating the situation. What’s the nature of the crisis? Does it require immediate treatment or intervention?

Examples of Possible Mental Health Crises

What to Do if You’re Not Sure the Situation is an Emergency

  • Ask yourself what will happen if you don’t intervene or seek immediate help. Is someone likely to be hurt or significantly harmed? If so, seek emergency help.
  • If you’re still unsure, consider asking a trusted friend or family member to stay and monitor the situation while it continues.

How and Where to Seek Help

If you’ve determined you’re in a mental health crisis, you have a few options for how to seek help.

  • Go to the closest emergency room for immediate medical care.
  • If you call 911 for help de-escalating the situation, be sure to tell the operator that it’s a “mental health emergency” and ask for emergency responders with Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training. Many first responders will approach a mental health situation differently if they know what to expect before they arrive.
  • Use the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline for free, confidential, 24/7/365 service. They can help you find resources that match your situation and location. This can be especially helpful for individuals or families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. Trained counselors are available 24/7 to help talk you through the situation.

What to Expect When You Seek Help

If you call a national hotline or helpline, you’ll be put in touch with someone trained to talk you through your crisis. These are often well-suited to people who aren’t in immediate physical danger and feel they can get through the crisis with support, or people who are in crisis but are having a hard time identifying next steps or what resources are available to them.

If you call 911, you may be taken to the hospital for monitoring and support until you’re more stable. Upon being admitted into the emergency room, expect to answer questions about your insurance, medical history, mental state, etc. The medical staff will quickly assess how urgently care is needed. A psychiatric examination will establish a “working diagnosis” and a plan of action. Many people in the hospital receive calming medication (when needed), crisis counseling, an explanation of what’s happening, and a referral for treatment after discharge.

After the Crisis

Make Sure You’re Physically Safe

Ask for help if you need it. This can include contacting friends or family members, partners, or your school (if you’re a student). It may also be wise to notify relevant people at work (if you’re concerned about the crisis interfering with your work or about someone showing up at your place of employment). If the danger is immediate, you may also need to contact local law enforcement for help or protection.

Give Yourself the Space to Process the Experience

Recognize any feelings as they come up. A lot of people feel embarrassed to feel shaken up by an upsetting or stressful experience, but it’s completely normal.

Contact Your Therapist

Do this after you’ve handled the immediate problem. Most therapists aren’t equipped or available to handle emergencies because they have a caseload and appointments to manage. But if you’ve had a mental health crisis, it’s important to let them know so they can help you manage the aftermath.

Avoiding a Crisis

If you live with a mental health condition, it’s a good idea to prepare for a crisis before it happens. Talk to your treatment team about where to go for emergency treatment, how to take time off work, and how to explain a potential absence to others. 

Your therapist can also provide you with methods to calm yourself and keep yourself safe in an emergency. Make sure you and those close to you (especially the people you live with) know what to do if you’re ever in crisis. NAMI’s Navigating a Mental Health Crisis guide is a good resource to help get you started.

No one wants to handle a mental health crisis. But preparing ahead of time can help you handle it if one ever arises. You can even learn techniques to prevent situations from escalating and becoming an emergency in the first place.

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