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Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: September 2023

If you are living with a mental health disorder, there may be moments when you feel like things are out of control and you are spiraling. These times are known as mental health crises. While they might be overwhelming and scary, remember that help and support are available.1

What is a mental health crisis?

A mental health crisis is a period of intense emotional and psychological distress. A mental health crisis can take many forms – from overwhelming anxiety to severe depression to thoughts of self-harm and suicide. A mental health crisis, if ignored, also can lead to:1

  • Getting in trouble with the law
  • Injuring yourself, on purpose or accidentally
  • Developing a plan to kill yourself or harm others

Assess your situation

When facing a mental health crisis, seeking the right support is crucial. If you already have put a plan in place to kill yourself (suicide plan), that is a mental health crisis. Get help immediately. Go to a hospital emergency room or call 911.1

If you have not developed a plan to kill yourself but you have thought about how, where, and when you would do it, that means you are in the process of putting a plan in place. Reach out for help. Call or text 988, or chat online, to reach a crisis counselor with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.1

If you do not have thoughts of suicide or self-harm but are still struggling, lean on your friends and family for support. Sharing your feelings and experiences can help relieve the burden you are carrying. And if you do not feel comfortable sharing with family or friends, remember that a crisis hotline is there to help. Also, meet with a therapist or counselor. Mental health professionals are trained to guide you through difficult times and give you strategies for coping and healing.1

Planning ahead to avoid a crisis

You cannot predict every challenge that will come your way. But there are ways you can build resilience and reduce your risk for a mental health crisis:1

  • Make a self-care routine. Establish a routine that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, and good sleep habits. These factors play a big role in maintaining mental well-being.
  • Make a plan in case of a crisis. It can be helpful to have a document or pre-established plan for support and healthcare workers to follow in the event you are in crisis or need treatment. The plans typically include medicines that have helped in the past, things supports can do to reduce symptoms, and facilities to avoid or pick first in the event of emergencies.
  • Reduce stress. Practice stress-reduction techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, or nature walks. Engage in hobbies you enjoy. While it is impossible to remove all of life’s stressors, these activities can help you manage stress before it grows out of control.
  • Stay connected. Isolation makes mental health challenges harder to deal with. Stay connected with loved ones. Strong social ties with family and friends act as a safety net during difficult times.
  • Limit alcohol use. Alcohol can make mental health conditions worse. Some medicines may not work as effectively if alcohol is mixed with them, and some medicines react with alcohol dangerously. Alcohol also can disrupt sleep, which is crucial for overall well-being. Avoiding alcohol use helps maintain emotional balance.

Additional resources

There are several resources available for people facing a mental health crisis:2-4

  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline – Call or text 988, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or use the Lifeline online chat. Available 24/7.
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline – Call 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text “Helpline” to 62640, or email helpline@nami.org.
  • Crisis Text Line – Text “HOME” to 741-741 to chat with a trained crisis counselor.
  • The Trevor Project – For LGBTQ+ young people in crisis, call 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678-678. Crisis counselors are available 24/7. You can also access help through their online Crisis Chat.
  • Postpartum Support International – For pregnant and new mothers struggling with postpartum depression, call or text “Help” to 1-800-944-4773. This free, confidential hotline is available in English and Spanish. For mothers with postpartum psychosis – a rare but serious form of postpartum depression – who are fearful they will harm themselves or their child, get help as soon as possible. Call or text 988.
  • Support groups – Participate in local or online support groups to connect with others who understand your experiences.
  • Mindfulness apps – Numerous apps offer tools for managing stress, anxiety, and depression. Examples include Headspace and Calm.

In moments of crisis, it is easy to forget that there is hope beyond the pain. By understanding what a mental health crisis is, knowing where to seek help, and learning how to prevent these situations, you are taking control of your well-being. Every small effort you make gets you closer to a bright, healthy future.

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