What is a mental health crisis?
A mental health crisis is a situation that puts people at risk of hurting themselves or others.
A crisis will be different for each person and somewhat dependent on whether that person has a mental health disorder, such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder or another chronic health condition. In some cases, a person might suffer a mental health breakdown because of the loss of a loved one or job or some other major negative life change.
What are the symptoms of a crisis?
Symptoms of a mental health crisis can include neglect of personal hygiene; dramatic change in sleep habits; weight gain or loss; decline in performance at work or school; noticeable mood changes, such as irritability, anger, anxiety or sadness; and withdrawal from routine activities and relationships.
Warning signs that a person might be suicidal include excessive sadness; sudden calmness after being depressed or moody; dangerous or self-harmful behavior such as reckless driving, having unsafe sex or abusing drugs or alcohol; giving away personal belongings and putting affairs in order; and threatening suicide.
How can friends or family help?
If your loved one is in a life-threatening situation or is seriously damaging property, calling 911 could be your best option.
A mental health crisis can be a serious medical emergency, and the person suffering can’t be helped with merely a pep talk or being told to “shape up.”
If you have a family member or friend who is suicidal, do not leave him or her alone. You should try to get the person to seek help immediately from an emergency room, physician or mental health professional.
It’s important to remain calm and nonjudgmental. You should listen to the person’s story and offer options, instead of trying to take control. You might want to avoid touching the person. Try not to overreact, argue or shout. Expressing support and concern can be helpful.
If you aren’t able to de-escalate the situation, it might be good to call the police and request a crisis intervention team officer — or CIT officer. Some police departments have officers who are trained to respond to calls about people with mental health disorders.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hotline at (800) 273-8255.
What’s the recovery time?
People suffering a mental health crisis might be taken to a crisis intervention center. If they’re found to be a danger to themselves or others, they could be kept at least overnight. If there are no mental health beds available in the county where they live, they might be taken to another facility.
If you go with someone in a mental health crisis to an emergency room, be prepared to wait. It can take several hours before the person is seen.
Medication prescribed for mental health can take several days to begin working or may not work at all.
After crisis, it’s important for a person to continue to receive consistent outpatient care. This can stop the person from merely going from crisis to crisis.
Sources: Bill Slocum, a peer support specialist at the Mental Health Association Oklahoma; National Institute of Mental Health; National Alliance on Mental Illness; American Psychological Association; The Cleveland Clinic and the Mayo Clinic.