Sandy Schoeneich

If you happened to stumble upon this blog post, there’s a strong chance that you are familiar with the mental health field to some capacity. Perhaps you have received your own therapeutic services in the past, or are currently curious about entering into a mental health service. You may also be in a position where you are in crisis or seeking mental health services for a loved one. One area in the mental health field that needs to be more consistently discussed is the issue of mental health crisis, how to recognize it, and how to intervene. This blog post will present a brief breakdown of Carrier Clinic’s article, How to Recognize a Mental Health Crisis and Intervene.

The first thing to note is that if you feel that either you or someone you know is experiencing any kind of mental health crisis, that may be an immediate threat in any kind of way, call 9-1-1. This is the safest option if the situation is ever too murky or if safety feels threatened or unclear.

What is a mental health crisis?

According to Carrier Clinic, a mental health crisis is any situation in which a person’s behavior puts them or others at risk – either via self-harm or harming others, or prevents them from functioning in a healthy way in the community. There are several factors that can contribute to a mental health crisis, which include: school/work stressors, home or environmental stressors, substance abuse, change in medication, a major life transition, loss, or when treatment stops working. Anyone experiencing crisis can have feelings such as guilt, anger, or grief. If there is any sudden change in mood or behavior in you or your loved one, seek assistance so that your situation can be effectively evaluated.

Warning signs of a mental health crisis

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) identifies the following as most common warning signs for crisis:

  • Rapid mood swings
  • Increased agitation/irritability/risk-taking/out-of-control behavior
  • Inability to perform daily tasks (taking care of hygiene, feeding oneself, etc.)
  • Abusive behavior – to self or others
  • Paranoia & loss of touch with reality
  • Isolation

When the crisis involves the risk of suicide

The risk of suicide in any type of crisis is a major concern and it needs appropriate and immediate intervention. Its important to note that those who attempt suicide typically feel overwhelming emotional pain, worthlessness, hopelessness, frustration, guilt, and shame. Social isolation is another marker for risk of suicide an mental health crisis because those who have isolated themselves may hold the belief that no one cares whether they live or die.

Any talk of suicide must be taken very seriously. According to NAMI, warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking as if saying goodbye
  • Stockpiling pills or obtaining weaponry
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Withdrawal from people or interests
  • Sudden cheerfulness or calm after being despondent
  • Saying things like “Nothing matters anymore”, “You’ll be better off without me”
  • History of suicide attempts or family/friend suicide attempts

What to do when you suspect that someone is thinking about suicide

If you notice any of the above warning signs, you must start the conversation with the person who is at risk. First, share specific signs and observations you’ve noticed in the person in a caring and compassionate manner. Then, the next question should establish if they are planning for or thinking about suicide. The question(s) needs to be direct and clear:
“Are you thinking about suicide?”
“Do you have a plan?”
“Do you know how you would do it?”

If the individual answers “yes” to any of those questions or you feel that they are at risk, seek professional help immediately. Call a healthcare professional or 9-1-1, remove threats such as medications or weapons, stay calm, and offer caring and nonjudgmental support. There are things you should not do as well in this crisis. Do not promise secrecy, do not try to single-handedly resolve the situation, and NEVER say something like “it’s all in your head, just snap out of it”.

How to de-escalate a crisis

If you are faced with a mental health crisis, here are some techniques you should utilize:

  • Remain calm and keep your voice calm
  • Listen to the person attentively
  • Express support and concern
  • Ask how you can help
  • Slow your pace
  • Be patient
  • Gently announce actions before initiating
  • Don’t argue or try to reason with the person
  • Offer options instead of trying to take control

If you cannot seem to deescalate the crisis, reach out to mental health professionals for support.

Crises are very complex situations and they need specific and efficient intervention and care. The above run-down of what to do in a mental health crisis only gives a brief glimpse into the attention that mental health crises require. If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, it is best to err on the side of caution and seek professional help immediately. If the crisis is severe, call 9-1-1. If you have other resources, such as a personal therapist or psychiatrist, you may try contacting them as well for support.

Carrier Clinic’s article, How to Recognize a Mental Health Crisis and Intervene, was referenced for this blog post.